Slatington shop fills gap for those in need
By ANNA GILGOFF
Special to The Press
Denise Martinez stands behind the counter where she welcomes customers to her shop, Caring Hearts Clothing Closet.
Behind her is a wall honoring her two grandmothers and a close high school friend.
Boxes and photographs of Hess’s Department Store serve as a reminder of the happy times she spent with the store at the Patio Restaurant.
But what makes her shop unique is that every item there is absolutely free.
Patrons can shop for free clothing, accessories and shoes, as well hygiene products and household items.
“We have everything you could possible need to dress your family,” Martinez said. “We cater to homeless, less fortunate and veterans.
‘However, we are open to all since COVID hit.”
Martinez cannot say enough about her dedicated volunteers who have been with her for five years.
“Some are retired,” she said. “And, I have two missionaries who come. Everybody wants to help and give back.
‘It’s amazing and mind blowing to me.”
Caring Hearts Clothing Closet enjoys a brisk traffic.
“Typically, on a Thursday and Friday we serve 35 people,” Martinez said. “But generally, 25 is an average for the day.
“People are waiting outside the door. It gets a little overwhelming at times.”
Martinez asks first timers to the shop to fill out a demographic card so she can provide the information she needs when applying for grants for rent and utilities.
Martinez is determined to help those in need.
“I started with Project Warm and Cozy,” she said. “That was my first project in 2016, making hats, gloves, and scarfs available for those who needed them.
“I had an Allentown store at 13th and Linden, next to Ripple Homeless Shelter.
“You have some people who are waiting for a disability check and others with no family.”
But good works are not free.
“I started out in my garage and my neighbor’s garage where we would have different events,” she explained.
“But now it costs over $1,000 a month, so we’re constantly looking to fund raise.”
Consequently, Martinez continually searches for ways to fund her enterprise.
“We do have to pay our electric and our rent, and even provide snacks for the volunteers,” she said. “Without the volunteers, I couldn’t run this place.
“We are just growing and growing and growing. I’m always looking for volunteers.”
Recently, her shop was given a face-lift with the help of a longtime friend.
“A gentleman from New Tripoli, Louis Bobbyn, brought his paint sprayer and all the equipment and donated the labor,” she said.
“Loews donated the paint.”
Additional help comes in many other forms.
“Rentschler’s just started collecting scarfs, coats and gloves for Warm and Cozy,” she said. “They wanted to collect for us.”
Martinez said she is learning to write grants along with her son, Austin.
“We also do food trucks in our parking lot,” she explained.
There’s also the Caring Hearts Cache.
“Anything that is Cache worthy goes back to my house,” Martinez said. “My pool table has now become a marketing station for the Caring Hearts Cache.
“The Cache is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Slatington Farmers Market where we rent a space.”
Martinez opened Caring Hearts at the Mercantile at the South Mall on Lehigh Street. Both shops support the Slatington store.
“Everybody needs help,” Martinez says, reflecting on her own life experience.
“I am a four-time heart survivor,” Martinez said. “I have been dead four times. “After my heart surgery I went into a deep depression.”
She credits her counselor with the help she gave her.
“I went into the Lehigh Valley Hospital’s Transition for eight weeks where I met a homeless woman who was helping people with mental health issues.”
The thought of helping others compelled her to act on behalf of those who need a bit of help.
Dr. Matthew Link, superintendent of the Northern Lehigh School District, called on behalf of a family in need of help.
“He was impressed that I returned his call within the hour,” she said. “They were fire victims and I had to help the family.”
That encounter led to an invitation to the high school’s career day and job fair.
“We’re really looking to team up with Northern Lehigh High School,” she said.
Lately, Martinez has been invited to share her story by several different organizations including local churches and Lions Clubs, and women’s organizations such as the Slatington Women’s Club.
“Public speaking is motivational to a lot of people,” she said. “I just talk from my heart.”
Caring Hearts Clothing Closet and More is located at 7935 Route 873, Slatington, and 1341 W. Linden St., Allentown. Hours vary at both locations.
Caring Hearts may be reached at 484-240-9774 or at email@example.com.
Additional information is on facebook.com/caringdamhearts.org.