January 16, 2014

At the Clothes Closet, every donation matters

Peggy Buchanan, who runs the Vanderbilt Clothes Closet, has hundreds of stories. As the lead guest service representative for Hospital Guest Services, she has helped her share of patients and visitors.

Guest Services Representative Peggy Buchanan sorts items donated to the Vanderbilt Clothes Closet. (photo by John Russell)

Peggy Buchanan, who runs the Vanderbilt Clothes Closet, has hundreds of stories.

Like the one about the patient who lost everything in a tornado. Peggy was able to put together items in a shopping bag for the woman as she was discharged from the hospital.

“She was able to leave Vanderbilt owning something,” recalled Buchanan.

Or when the a man fell crying into her arms after she was able to outfit him in warm clothes, socks and shoes upon his discharge.

“With nothing on his back, I had to find him really warm clothing. He had tears in his eyes saying it was the best Christmas he had experienced in a long, long time,” Buchanan said.

And the time the burn unit called needing one shoe.

“I looked and we had one man’s shoe. Just one,” she said shaking her head. “I dropped it off and hurried along to my next batch of meetings.

“Later that day I called the unit to check on the patient and to apologize for not asking whether they needed a left or right shoe.

“I remember the pause on the phone. The nurse said how amazing that I brought just the right one. It was my little miracle.”

As the Lead Guest Service Representative for Hospital Guest Services, Buchanan has helped her share of patients and visitors. But she finds great pleasure in running the Vanderbilt Clothes Closet.

Tucked away in a shared space with Plant Ops on the first floor of Vanderbilt University Hospital, the 12-foot x 14-foot space is characterized by the mismatched storage bins and shelving, the salvaged clothes rack and an old table used for sorting donations.

“It might not look like much, but it makes a huge difference,” said Buchanan. “When we give people items from here, we are providing them with a sense of normalcy and, many times, a level of dignity.

“It’s amazing what giving someone new socks or underwear does,” she said. “Being able to offer a person clean pants and a shirt because their clothing was ruined in an accident or cut off as our doctors were saving their lives, it means something.”

Dave Andrews, manager of Vanderbilt Guest Services, said the Clothes Closet receives donations from employees, who bring in gently used clothing and shoes.

“This is a year-round need and we are low on everything,” said Andrews. “Donations are accepted at all of our guest service/information desks. If more people were aware that we collect items, we would see an increase. We work at a hospital. Service is what we do.

“From the time a person comes in to Vanderbilt to the moment they leave, we show we care. It is the culture that we are establishing and it is rewarding for our department that we can give something to someone and make them feel so much better,” Andrews said.

Twice a week, during her lunch breaks, Buchanan tends to the closet — sweeping, dusting and organizing donations, which are not tax-deductible.

The list of clean items in good condition needed for the Clothes Closet includes:

• Men’s and women’s sweatpants, warmups and jeans, all sizes.

• Men’s and women’s generic t-shirts in all sizes.

• Men’s belts.

• Men’s and women’s new socks, all sizes.

• Men’s and women’s flat shoes, including sports shoes and flip flops, all sizes.

• Men’s winter coats and jackets.

“Oftentimes visitors and patients find themselves here with great anxiety and fear,” said Buchanan. “Clothing and cleanliness are basic desires for everyone. We want people to leave Vanderbilt with something better than they came with. It’s very simple.”

Donations to the Vanderbilt Clothes Closet can be sent to:

VUMC Guest Services
1211 Medical Center Drive, Suite B-361
Nashville, TN 37232

For questions or more information on the Vanderbilt Clothes Closet, contact Dave Andrews at david.a.andrews@vanderbilt.edu or (615) 343-2834.