by Jill Ragar Esfeld
BASEHOR — Given a choice between going fishing and picking out clothes for a girl, 14-year-old Avery Fliger would much rather go fishing.
But when the Holy Spirit calls, Avery is ready to serve — and sometimes that means passing up an afternoon of fishing to coordinate an outfit.
Avery, a member of Holy Angels Parish in Basehor, is owner and operator of The Clothes Closet, a second-hand store where the underprivileged can find gently-used clothing within their price range: Everything is Avery’s shop is free.
But sometimes, those in need can’t make it to The Clothes Closet, located in an annex building on the parish campus. In that case, Avery takes age, sex, and size information over the phone and does the shopping himself.
He’s coordinated outfits for everyone from nursing home residents to children in foster care.
And he’s pretty good at it.
It’s not about me
An eighth-grader at Basehor-Linwood Middle School, Avery is preparing to make his confirmation, along with more than 50 other seventh- and eighth-graders in his parish. Included in that group are his seventh-grade brothers, Landon and Carson.
As part of the preparation process, Holy Angels confirmation candidates are required to do a service project.
“What we really try to get through to them is ‘It’s not about me,’” said Marilyn Hauschild, parish director of religious education. “It’s about doing something for someone else and going out and serving others.”
Patty Dickinson, who teaches the eighth-grade confirmation preparation at Holy Angels, said when students first come into her class, their faith experience often begins and ends at the church doors.
“My goal is to expand that to continue when they leave church,” she said, “so that they understand faith is in every moment.”
The service project is an important part of that process.
Most of Avery’s classmates chose standard service projects, like working at the local food pantry or helping out at a retirement home. But Avery really wanted to do something different.
He went to his mother, Teresa Fliger, for help.
“I’m a social worker,” said Fliger. “I go into schools on a regular basis, so I get to see a lot of what takes place in the community . . . and the needs of people.”
Fliger knew people in poverty often had a hard time getting decent, affordable clothing, even at a thrift store.
“At Goodwill, shirts are $3.95,” she exxplained. “And people who are in poverty don’t have $3.95 to spend on a shirt.”
Fliger had a vision of establishing a clothing store where those in need could shop for free.
“I came to the boys and said, ‘Hey guys, what do you think? Would you like to use this as part of your service project?’” she recalled. “And Avery said, ‘Absolutely!’”
Accepting the challenge
“I was trying to think of something different,” said Avery. “I thought this would help out the community and help people outside of Basehor, too.”
Avery got the approval and enthusiastic support of Holy Angels’ pastor Father Al Rockers and set to work making his mom’s idea a reality.
He put a notice in the church bulletin asking for gently used clothing. He also designed flyers to be distributed around town and to local schools.
Holy Angels Parish secretary Joyce Bowlin helped Avery with the notice, created receipt forms for tax write-offs, and agreed to accept incoming donations.
Avery and his mother visited different thrift stores to get ideas about how to design his Clothes Closet.
Once Avery had a layout in mind, he went online to research the best prices on clothing racks. His parents donated the cost of five free-standing racks.
To get the most out of his space, Avery wanted more clothes racks mounted on the walls, so he asked fellow parishioner Fred Randolph for help.
“He came in and built the racks on the walls for free,” said Avery. “He didn’t charge us one dime.”
Hauschild marveled at Avery’s hard work and determination. She saw him learning valuable lessons through the process.
“He learned that you can do something of this magnitude if you plan it out,” she said. “He did a lot of planning. His mom helped him with it, but he did the lead work on it and she was there to support him. “
More than enough
The response to Avery’s request for clothing was, in his mother’s word, “overwhelming.”
“There were too many clothes at once,” said Avery. “We were up there sorting for hours and hours. We asked for gently used clothes and probably 90 percent of them were in really good shape.”
Avery went to Tickled Pink Cleaners in Kansas City, Kan., and asked for a donation of hangers.
“We got too many hangers, too,” he said. “Then we just started hanging all the clothes up — by little girls, boys, teenagers, women, men and coats.”
Carson and Landon chipped in to help their brother get his clothing store up and running. How could they resist a brother in need, when the need was so obvious?
“The whole ground was covered with clothes everywhere you could see,” said Landon. “And some of it was brand-new stuff that still had the tags on it.”
“They helped with a lot of it,” said their mother. “They had their own service projects, but they came up and helped sort through clothes and get things on hangers.”
The boys worked tirelessly day after day — organizing the clothes, going through boxes filled with jumbles of shoes to match pairs, and hanging accessories on the walls between racks.
“A lot of work went into it because they had so many donations,” said Hauschild. “It was kind of overwhelming at first, but they just kept at it. And I think Avery did an outstanding job.”
Avery used every inch of the limited space he was given for his Clothes Closet, and stored boxes and bags of extra donations throughout the annex.
As soon as everything was organized, he made more flyers — this time inviting anyone in need to visit his new business.
Avery wrote a big WELCOME across a chalk board on the wall and made a sign for the front door that featured an angel welcoming visitors to the Clothes Closet.
Worth the effort
Dickinson was one of the first to take advantage of Avery’s service project.
“I work at an insurance company and one of my customers took in a foster boy who was seven years old,” she said. “I called Avery and I said, ‘This little boy came with three sets of clothes and no shoes.’”
Avery was able to help the boy, and the foster parent was grateful.
“Then there was another situation where three families had moved into a mobile home in Lawrence as a result of a foreclosure,” Dickinson continued. “There were eight or nine kids living in this mobile home, and again I called [Avery] and I said, ‘OK, I’m going to start giving you sizes and sexes.’”
Avery was concerned at first that he wouldn’t be able to pick out clothes without knowing the children’s likes and dislikes.
“I said, ‘It’s winter; just get them something warm,’” said Dickinson. “And, you know, he did a good job.”
“That night we came up here, found all the sizes we needed and picked everything out,” said Avery. “I think we found everything except for one pair of shoes.”
The Clothes Closet was able to give the family three bags of clothes, and that made all of Avery’s hard work worthwhile.
“It makes me feel good that I’ve been helping the community by letting them know that, instead of buying clothing, they can just come here and get it for free” he said.
“It’s always a wonderful thing to see when a kid realizes they can make a positive difference in the world,” said Dickinson. “And I think that’s what has happened with Avery.”
“God expects me to help other people,” Avery added. “Because when I do that, I’m doing it for God.”
Avery may be talented at running a clothing store and coordinating outfits, but his true passion is clear when he talks about his chosen confirmation saint.
“Saint Andrew,” he said. “He’s the patron saint of fishermen and I like to fish a lot. That’s why I’ve chosen him.”