2019 JEFFERSON AWARDS: Princeton Volunteer Makes Difference With “The Closet”

It might just be the biggest "closet" you've ever seen, but Julie McCutchan will tell you that "The Closet" in Princeton, Illinois is very special.

"Women just get together and do these kinds of things, you know?" she said.

The resale shop raises money for charity and is celebrating its 50th year in 2019. The idea started in 1969 by Church Women United.

"In the 60s, we had a large asparagus farm and an asparagus cannery in Princeton and we had migrant workers," Julie explained. "Our lovely Church Women United ladies saw the children and wanted to reach out to them."

Their families needed clothes, furniture, and housewares - so the women started collecting donations and soon opened a store with every penny made going to back to the people in their town.

"I was looking back in the minutes and they said - we can`t afford a telephone now, because it would cost so much a year and that was 50 years ago," recalled Julie. "However, they were already giving money back into the community."

Today, The Closet averages about 250 transactions a day and grants hundreds of thousands of dollars to dozens of non-profits every year.

"We look at our bottom line, but we look at it with different eyes, a different attitude. We look at it for how much money we can give away at the end of the year," explained Shirley Johnson, President of The Closet Board and one of people who nominated Julie for the Jefferson Awards, a foundation that celebrates public service and the people in our communities who are changing lives. "How many thousands of people have we impacted in 50 years? It`s mind blowing."

"It`s kind of like a pebble in a lake," Julie added. "It just ripples on forever and you don`t know how long or how far it goes."

Besides celebrating their 50th anniversary, Julie, Shirley, and the 80 or so volunteers at The Closet are looking forward to hitting another milestone in 2019 - the $3 million mark.

"It all goes together," said Julie. "Each little bit seems insignificant, but when you put it all together then it`s what`s happening here.

"We couldn`t do it without our volunteers and Julie has been our longest volunteer," added Shirley. "She`s not only part of where we`ve been, but part of our push forward. She`s a very important part of The Closet."

"Give For Good" is a slogan of the Jefferson Awards and Julie, now a 2019 Jefferson Awards Nominee, is representing how one person can make a difference.

"I just think we have so much, we need to be good stewards of what we have," she concluded. "I`m sure none of us in the very beginning had any idea that it would grow to this - and we`re already talking about our next 50 years!"

To learn more about The Closet, click here.

To learn more about the Jefferson Awards Foundation, click here.

Every Tuesday in January and February, WQAD News 8 is introducing you to our 2019 Jefferson Awards Nominees. Then, in April, we will announce our Jefferson Awards Finalist. That person gets to attend the National Jefferson Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. this June and meet other Jefferson Awards Finalists from across the country.

The Jefferson Awards are sponsored locally by Genesis Health System and Budget Blinds.

To see who was nominated in all five seasons of the Jefferson Awards on WQAD News 8, click here.

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