Daughter’s death leads parents to open a clothing bank
More than two years after Kira Wraspir’s sudden death from a non-cancerous tumor at the age of 12, her mother Debbie Wraspir keeps her memory alive through Kira’s Kloset at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Spokane.
|Brian and Debbie Wraspir serve at Kira’s Kloset|
In her name, volunteers give out hundreds of clothing items and books on third Saturdays at the church’s gymnasium, 9706 N. Division St.
It’s a way for Debbie to both remember and honor Kira.
While Debbie does not believe the grief of a parent losing a child is something that ever goes away, working with Kira’s Kloset has helped carry her through the difficulty of the first years after Kira’s death.
It also helps other children, keeping alive Kira’s spirit of giving to her community.
Since it opened in October 2010, serving 28 children at its first distribution in January 2011, it has grown to serve 100 to 300 children each month. It also provides an outlet for others who wish to remember Kira and help out in the community.
After Kira’s death, Debbie knew she needed to find something on which to focus her attention.
“We did so much together. I was her Girl Scout leader. She also did volleyball and dance,” Debbie said. “I had this huge hole, not only in my heart, but also in my life.”
|Kira's Kloset in St.Luke Lutheran Church gym on 3rd Saturday of the month.|
The girls in the Girl Scout troop gave her the idea of a clothing bank. Their idea was to open one focused on providing prom dresses. Debbie, however, decided offering clothing for every day could make a bigger impact.
Kira gave to the community during her lifetime, so it made sense to Debbie to honor her in a way that helped those in need. For example, Kira volunteered at the Mead food bank with her family and grew out her hair for Locks of Love.
“Kira loved clothes, and she had a genuine care of people,” Debbie said. “I feel like it brings those two parts of her together and represents her well.”
As the idea took shape, it quickly attracted the efforts of a range of people.
“Our youngest volunteer was about seven years old and our oldest is in her 80’s,” Debbie said.
Along with Debbie’s friends and family, who rallied around Debbie and Kira’s Kloset from the beginning, Kira’s friends, members of St. Luke Lutheran Church, which the family attend, and others touched by Kira’s story volunteered.
“Different people have found different roles that fit them,” Debbie said.
Mead elementary schools, the church, Kira’s dance studio and other organizations put out barrels to collect clothing. Volunteers pick up the donations, wash them and bring them to the church.
St. Luke opened their doors and offered Kira’s Kloset use of their space. Clothing is stored in their basement and distributed in the church’s gymnasium on third Saturdays.
Volunteers sort donations each week. Some, such as Debbie’s mother, mend clothes. On the Friday before distribution, volunteers come in to set up the gym. Saturday requires 20 to 30 volunteers. There’s a role for everyone.
“Some volunteers don’t want to interact with customers. For others, that’s what they’re there for,” Debbie said. “I’m glad there are different opportunities so people can help out where they are comfortable.”
On a typical Saturday, customers line up outside the church before the doors open at 10 a.m. Parents and their children show their IDs and receive a punch card for each child.
This punch card acts as a shopping list, letting the family know how many of each item they can take. It is also a way to keep track of the clothing and books being given out. The punch cards change depending on what items are available that month and how many people are expected.
While the original intention was to serve school-aged children, because they were Kira’s peers, the program has expanded to include some infant clothes, as well as a small juniors section.
Children can pick out books along with clothing and shoes. As an elementary school teacher, Debbie knows the importance of early literacy for children’s success in school.
“If they don’t have money for clothes, you know there’s no money for books, and I just think that’s so important.” Debbie said. “It warms my heart to see children dig through the books.”
She loves being able to help families in hard situations.
“If there’s a house fire with a family we also put together bags for the children,” she said.
It can be difficult for people to ask for help.
“We had one mom who had lost her job. Her husband had left her. She was raising children on her own,” Debbie said. “She said, ‘I’ve never had to ask for help like this.’”
Debbie and the volunteers work hard to ensure shoppers are treated with dignity.
One way they do so is through the setup of the organization.
“We try to make Kira’s Kloset as much like a store as possible,” Debbie said.
When children grow out of clothes they’ve received, many customers re-donate them. This is a way that they are able to turn around and help others. One mother was able to see firsthand the impact her donations made.
“She had donated a shirt, and as they were at Kira’s Kloset shopping for her children, she saw someone else with that shirt she had donated,” Debbie said. “I think it’s meaningful that they are able to help, too.”
Debbie, who grew up in a Catholic family in Yakima, went to Eastern Washington University and graduated in 1989 with a degree in elementary education. She and her husband, Brian, lived in Vancouver, Wash., until 1998. At that time her husband was offered a chance to transfer to Spokane.
In 1999, they joined St. Luke. She and her husband began attending Lutheran churches after their marriage, because they found it to be comfortable both for her and Brian who grew up as a Protestant.
Debbie took a break from teaching while raising Kira and Mitch, 19, who is a freshman at Eastern Washington University. Now she has two part-time jobs: teaching third grade in the Mead School District and serving as the children’s ministry coordinator at St. Luke.
Debbie is grateful for the community’s support. She saw it in the pink flower decals Kira’s Girl Scout troop made for her funeral. People display the flowers in car windows and other places to show their remembrance of Kira.
“It’s amazing how many pink flowers are around,” she said.
She also feels that support through the items people donate.
“I am humbled by how much we are given,” Debbie said. “When I look at these racks full of clothes that people have made a choice to give to us, I know they could have given it to any other agency but they gave it to us. So I bear a responsibility. I want to do right by them and make sure that their clothing is used again.”
As she spends a Saturday giving out clothing, her thoughts come back to her daughter.
“When I see the looks on some of those faces and hear some of the stories of people that come through, I just can’t help but feel fulfilled, and that Kira is smiling down on us,” she said.
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Copyright © September 2013 - The Fig Tree