K’s Kloset–one woman’s home is where people give—and receive
For gently used free stuff, locals know that Karen Yvon’s garage in Blandford is the place to go. The longtime Berkshire resident has been running a free exchange, “K’s Kloset,” out of her home for nearly 10 years, providing clothing and household goods to—at last count—57 families. Almost half of them come every weekend.
Yvon says, “Take as much or as little as you want,” and they do. Saturday mornings, they’re here. For five dollars—she reluctantly began charging this year just to help cover heat and electric—people fill bags and boxes and make two or three trips to their car. If they try something on at home and it doesn’t fit, they even bring it back. “No harm, no foul,” says Yvon.
She’s not open to the public; this happens through word of mouth. New items come in every day; it’s kind of like Christmas, says Yvon. “People love to donate. It’s easy to drop it in a box along the street but they want it to have a second and third home.” She points to a Chicos shirt. “Salvation Army might sell it for $3, but you can get a whole wardrobe here. There’s a North Face jacket over there.”
“The more you take, the better off I am,” she tells people. Somebody fills three bags of casual clothes for a new job. One lady comes in and takes things for her five grown children. “I don’t check their bank statements,” says Yvon, but she thinks word gets out to the people who need it. The leftovers get carted to a donation box for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, a group out of West Springfield.
“This is empty,” she says on a Monday, gesturing at what remains within the building. It looks like plenty—racks of clothes, shoes, kitchenware, a whole table of jewelry. Pointing to an appliance that infuses beverages with fruit, Yvon says, “I never know what’s gonna go. This was all the rage, but it’s still sitting here.” A rocking chair, a quilt, and a dollhouse that people picked out Saturday for Christmas presents are stashed for safekeeping on the other, unorganized side of the garage.
Yvon’s friendly old golden retriever parades around, her toenails clicking on the concrete.
“You gonna take those fancy things?” Yvon says to one of her regulars, an elderly woman holding a pair of very furry boots.
“I like them, and I bet they’re gonna fit me,” says the woman.
“And you know what? They were $1,500,” says Yvon.
The woman who donated them had bought them in Italy in the ‘70s while on her honeymoon and wore them twice. They were the thing in Italy, but less so here. Yvon was pretty sure they were Himalayan goat hair. “I googled it because I didn’t believe her.”
“Oh my god. Really.” The woman is astounded.
Before helping her to her car, Yvon encourages the woman to look through the clothes. “This is it? You sure? You never know.”
Tomorrow, after work—Yvon works at Farmington River Elementary and for an Airbnb—she’ll take pictures of what’s left and post them on her Facebook page. She’ll save what people ask her to, purge most of the rest, then restock for Saturday.
When her husband broke his leg and money was low, she frequented a clothing drive in a church basement in Huntington and also volunteered there. Wanting to give back, she thought, “I could do this.”
Originally from Springfield, Yvon began her operation in 2010, trying to pass along kids’ clothes from her family. “I left my car open at work and people would take them.” Hand-me-downs were something she was used to.
Yvon points out that in these rural areas, without public transportation, it can be easier to check her inventory than trek to a store. Her customers tell her if there’s something they need, and Yvon looks out for it. “You’ve got nothing to lose, other than time.” She looked into nonprofit status once, but since she makes no money, there was no point—she would have had to charge a lot more to pay for the fees.
While K’s Kloset has a Facebook page, if people want something, they have to come to the shop at least once. “I have to physically meet you,” she says. While she doesn’t have space for furniture, she might point you to somebody’s house to get what you need. And there’s need everywhere, not just for essential items. When she posted about five pairs of skis, somebody called saying, “I’ve got five grandkids, they all want to ski, I can’t afford that.” The woman later told Yvon that everything fit.
Yvon coordinates all this in her “spare” time.
“I’m out here more than my full-time job,” she says, but she thoroughly enjoys it. “I meet people that I would never have met. And I think back on all the times that we benefited.” She only takes donated items she truly needs. She and her son, who is 23, just went to L.L. Bean to get him a coat. “And that was the first time I’ve ever had to buy him a coat.”