Martin (aged 43) is born and raised in Rotterdam. He currently lives in Zuidwijk. Martin works as a chauffeur at Trevvel five days a week. Through his job he learned about de Kledingbank; “Trevvel does charity projects togethes with foundation DOK. Back then there was a project with which they distributed secondhand but otherwise good matrasses to people in need.
I had to deliver the matrasses. The administration was done through de Kledingbank and thats how i got in contact with them. When the project ended i stayed in touch with my Kledingbank-contact Jolita. She asked me if i would be interested in volunteering some more and since i was on sick leave due to a knee injury i had time on my hands, so from there i started sorting donations.”
He volunteers every Saturday, “but when i have an hour to spend i usually help out if they need me.” Mostly he does the sorting of all the goods that have been donated. “People and companies bring clothing to de Kledingbank in big bags. I bring them to the storage warehouse. We take all the good clothing, hang them in the racks and from there it's hung in the shop.” Every day a lot of bags are donated, and sometimes there's even more in the bags than just clothing. “Some people think they can throw anything in there. Medicin, condoms, we've seen it all. It's never a dull day!”
Besides the activities Martin also tells me he has really good times with his colleagues. “We have a lot of staff outings. Barbecues, fashionshows and exhibitions, you name it. There's a lot of arrangements made. I normally wouldn't go to an opening of an expo, but with my co-workers i really like going to these places.”
He tells me he's a curious person and likes to do and discover new things. A few years ago he travelled to Cape verde, the land where his father comes from. Working with clothes was also new for Martin when he first started at de Kledingbank; “I've developed myself, got to know the people, it has become a very nice side-job. I made it my own and it's become almost a second nature.”
Corinne is from Zeeland and is 59 years old. She's been living in Rotterdam for 35 years. Her resume varies from taking care of the catering facility at Erasmus University and cultural work to working in fashion store Kennedy on the Lijnbaan and owning her own company; “With my ex i had a secondhand clothing export company: we sorted the clothes; one part went to other countries and one part was sold to customers like Cheap Fashion (store in Rotterdam).”
Besides that Corinne spent four months of every year in Turkey for 13 years. Here she did seasonal work in the greenhouses. The company where she worked brought her back to the clothing-industry; “They started with clothes-export. The clothes all had to be sterilised and via a Dutch company it got transported from Turkey to the USA.” She did this for five years but at a certain point had to stop. This was quite hard for her; “I had always worked my ass off, couldn't develop anything in the Netherlands or Turkey, i felt very out of place. When the job ended it didn't go well. I completely lost myself.” She then started doing volunteer work; in the kitchen in de Stadstuin on the Kop van Zuid. De Stadstuin moved so she had to quit this too. Because she was still in therapy finding a steady job was hard. She loved doing volunteer work so searched for something new and found de Kledingbank: “I thought to myself; What do i want!? A steady job wasn't an option yet. Working with clothing again would be nice because that has been somewhat of a common thread in my life.”
Corinne emphasizes she really appreciates the collegiality and friendship among the volunteers; “I've sometimes been running from myself and working non-stop. I have wear and tear in my back but i'm unstoppable. I'm like a bouncy ball, I have too much energy. But eventually you'll meet yourself. Nowadays i'm not overstretching myself but still sometimes i do too much physical work.” Inge took over store managing from her, she knows Corinne well and tries to point out when she's running herself ragged. Inge says; “Sometimes there's only women working when we need some muscles. Then Corinne is carrying al those big bales but she has a bad back so i'll tell her 'Corinne! Sit down woman!'”
Corinne's been working happily for the Kledingbank for four and a half years now. She used to work as store manager, now manages the storage warehouse and takes care of the collection in the shop. “What i really enjoy is being able to help people who are having a hard time. Part of your job is social work. The best part is to come in touch with a lot of different cultures, i've always been fond of all cultures.”
Nihad (aged 48) is from Aleppo, Syria. He has been living in The Netherlands since three and a half years of which the last three years working at De Kledingbank. “When i moved to Rotterdam, i immediately searched for volunteer work. Via via i ended up at De Kledingbank.” Nihad used to work in a clothing store when he was 14 years old, so he already had the affinity with clothes. Besides his work for De Kledingbank he also works as social worker at StichtingVluchtelingen voor Vluchtelingen.
At De Kledingbank he currently works as store manager two days a week, meaning he keeps order and regularity and makes sure all volunteers have a task to work on. By doing this he gets to know all customers, which is important to him: “Learning the language alone is not enough for me, i need to be in touch with people as well.” The most beautiful aspect of his work to him are the smiles on peoples faces: “I came to The Netherlands with heavy problems, it was and still is rough sometimes. I'm glad that i can help other people who are also having hard times. It's such a lovely feeling making people happy. A smile on a child's face is worth it all.” Besides making customers happy the working environment is also very important. “I've got lovely and kind colleagues. Volunteer work without a nice atmosphere is no fun. Here it's one big happy family, which helps making progress, especially as a newcomer in The Netherlands.”
Back in Syria Nihad owned his own company. He worked as middleman between businessmen and customs. He has travelled all over the world. Nihad loves to cook, especially Syrian food, which he does a lot and really is good at. For the volunteer barbecue during summer Nihad showed off nicely with all kinds of Syrian delicacies: fresh hummus, baba ghanoush, you name it. He'd love to start a restaurant one day, which unfortunately doesn't seem possible in these times of pandemic. But this won't be due to his lust for work, positive view on the world, and strength: “My story, with all that happened in and ofter the war, is very sad. My life has changed. My advice to everyone out there: Never give up, stay positive. Everything is possible. Today i'm a model, why not?”
The interview starts off well; “Nihad is acting crazy, i'll slap you man!” Inge is 66 years old, born and raised in Rotterdam. She's full of energy and is not afraid of making a few jokes here and there. When asked where she's born her answer is: “That's a good question. That's where this whole mess started hahaha! For the life of me I would'nt know. There never was a birth announcement card. Probably at my grandparents house, Amelandseplein in Rotterdam Zuid. Let's just stick with that.”
For almost a year Inge has been working at de Kledingbank. Before that she had a few tries here but she got sick, the job was too hard physically and the impressions too much. Now she works two days a week and sometimes an extra day. One day a week she's store manager: “Well it's hard to believe, never thought i'd experience it, Wednesdays i am store manager! And on Saturdays i work with Nihad.”
Inge is a real bar-tiger, though she refers to it as “boerenlullenkroegen” (untranslatable) . For years she worked at Cafe Timmer. When i ask her about the uprise of 'trendy' bars in Rotterdam she says; “Disgusting. When people order a Vieux Cola with me my response is: 'Hey, we're not in a cocktailbar!'” When she got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, her husband past away and her parents got sick too, working was no longer an option. After a few years she could start bartending at Timmer again but because of the pandemic and her physical health regrettably she had to quit again. One of the regular bar guests was Mary, chairwoman of de Kledingbank. “My daughter was an intern with Mary at 'het Zeemanshuis'. Mary knows me well; i'm always acting a little crazy, saying a bunch of foolish things but that's just a small part of who i am. She very subtly lured me to de Kledingbank.”
Sometimes on just one day dozens of bags with clothing are delivered at de Kledingbank. “All the clothes that are donated, it's so special! There are so many beautiful items among them. Sure sometimes it's shit but we have solutions for that as well”
Contact with her colleagues and (sometimes difficult) customers comes easy for Inge. Every day she meets new people, just like before when she was working in 'boerenlullenkroegen'. “Working at de Kledingbank gives me new energy again. I love clothes but that's actually the last on the 'pro-list'. The nicest thing is to see and meet so many different people. You're being appreciated. De Kledingbank made me feel human again!”
Aïda (aged 60) fled from Abkhazia to the Netherlands in 1994. She lives in Rotterdam West. She's been working with the Kledingbank for seven years. Before this she was a manager in the catering industry, but because of her health (hernia and leg troubles) she had to quit. “I'm not a couch potato so i was very happy i could start working at the Kledingbank. I like contributing to society.” Aida is grateful for the help she got when she came to the Netherlands; “now is my time to give back and help other people”
Two days a week she works as store manager . Before that she worked in the shop and was sorting in the storage warehouse, but she had good ideas and became manager. What she loves about working here is making people happy: “You see the light turning on in people's eyes again. We work with different authorities that make for a big variety in people; not just with financial problems, there are also clients with mental issues.” Working with those authorities is not always easy. “Some companies aren't communicating well with their clients. There's little guidance, some clients even come without and can't speak Dutch. Then explaining the range of the Kledingbank and getting to know the clients wishes is quite difficult. For example, sometimes they are unaware of the fact they can visit two times a year, that there's a special winter and summer selection and they can choose when to visit as long as they make an appointment upfront. We treat clients as kind and friendly as possible but communications from authorities should be a bit better”
Aida also agrees that the atmosphere is very nice. “People who work here have such big hearts, we've also befriended eachother outside of the workingplace. I am so proud of my Tuesday and Thursday team, i couldn't wish for better. The people that work here often have emotional baggage but still find the time to help others, which is beautiful. Some days working at the Kledingbank is hard, both physically and mentally. There are a lot of clients with mental baggage and different backgrounds. After work you're tired, but it's tired of the good kind. Your day didn't just pass, you were able to do something beautiful for someone else.”
The chairwoman of the board of the Clothing Bank is Mary. Mary is 71 years old and lives in Rotterdam. She previously had her own companies, was a hotel manager and then PR manager at the Zeemanshuis. Ten years ago she was approached by Kledingbank-Rotterdam to strengthen the board. Mary has expanded the board so that more projects can be taken on, such as the pop-up store 'Past Too' (where a special selection is offered at a slightly higher price and of which the proceeds all go to Kledingbank-Rotterdam, so that, for example, new underwear can also be offered). She currently works at the Kledingbank five days a week.
In addition, Mary also occasionally assists in the store, such as last week: “A deaf couple came by with their children to make an appointment. The communication was difficult since wearing a face mask is required and they're of Turkish and Moroccan descent and didn't speak Dutch very well. In such case we'll make an exception and help them right away. Because of their language handicap it's a bit more challenging, but we try what is possible. They were so happy and grateful.”
Mary indicates that Kledingbank-Rotterdam is looking for more volunteers and more people who can sew in the atelier studio. People who feel addressed after reading these stories are more than welcome to get in touch [by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling Gerard Roijackers tel. 06 14 02 39 94]. Mary is proud of each and every volunteer: “There is a very nice atmosphere. Every store manager thinks their team is the best, there's no better team than their own.” Mary gives the volunteers as much freedom as possible and believes it is important that they take initiative and contribute their own ideas. “For the volunteers it's like a home, a second family. That moves me. With all our different nationalities, we are a reflection of society and a good example of how good a multicultural society can be.”