The Clothing Bank in Thornton is steadily rebuilding its warehouse after it was ravaged by a fire that destroyed millions of rand of merchandise.
According to co-founder of The Clothing Bank, Tracey Gilmore, the fire broke out in the early hours of Saturday May 25 with firefighters only managing to contain the blaze the following day.
“I received a call at 12.30am and rushed through with my business partner Tracey Chambers and her husband. When we reached Viking Way, we could see how out of control the fire had gotten.
The fire department told us that the fire had started at the back of the warehouse and moved towards the front. It gained momentum as there were many items of clothing that went up in flames,” she said.
Ms Gilmore said the blaze destroyed the administration block, training area and warehouse.
“We lost stock valued between R10 million and R15 million. We have so far made contact with many of our suppliers and we have had a terrific response from the community and second-hand clothing suppliers,” she said.
The Clothing Bank, started in 2010, provides unemployed mothers with entrepreneurial skills required to become entrepreneurs and helps them set up their own trading businesses using clothing donated by South African retailers.
The programme currently supports 760 mothers across its five branches in Cape Town, Paarl, East London, Durban, and Johannesburg.
Receptionist Liezel Malgas, of Malibu Village, who has been working at The Clothing Bank for the past five years, said she was in disbelief and very emotional when she heard about the fire.
The Clothing Bank has found temporary accommodation at 26 Thor Circle and is steadily rebuilding its base of operation.
“We are feeling much more positive now that everything will fall into place,” said Ms Malgas.
Ms Gilmore said the new premises that they are currently occupying had just been advertised for rental following the tragedy.
“We signed an 18-month lease here the very next week because the City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue has condemned the building and said it would take between eight and 12 months to rebuild,” she said.
She said the women who had been affected were mostly the sole breadwinners in their homes and they stood to lose their regular customer base should they not deliver the merchandise they usually sold to them.
“A well-known retailer has, however, come forward and given us starter packs that will enable the women to generate some income, while we try to get everything back on track,” she said. Good Samaritans have also donated two containers full of second-hand clothes, Ms Gilmore said.
Mother of two Sindiswa Mtwa of Mfuleni said the loss of income she had experienced since the fire had a significant impact on her family.
“It was not easy for me to hear about the fire. It was a big setback,” she said.
Ms Mtwa, who is a single mother, said she did not have another supplier.
“I sell my clothes door-to-door and now I don’t have enough clothes to sell to my over 100 customers in Mfuleni. They are very disappointed,” she said.
She said The Clothing Bank had been her saving grace.
“When I first came here I owned only a pair of flip flops and wore those during the interview and training. Now, I have nine pairs of shoes because I have been able to make money through The Clothing Bank,” she said.
Gillian Trosky of Pelican Park said the news of the fire came as a “big shock” to her.
“I couldn’t believe it. I had to go to a normal shop and buy my daughter boots because it is cold. I could have gotten them at a more reasonable price here at The Clothing Bank. I also have to use of my savings to make ends meet,” she said.
Michelle Bester of Parkwood was hopeful that the rebuilding wouldn’t take too long and praised the women at The Clothing Bank for their camaraderie.
“This place gives us strength and the sisterhood is amazing. If you come to work with no taxi money there will always be someone to help you out,” she said.
Ms Gilmore described the outpourings of support from the community as “Ubuntu in action”.
“The resourcefulness of the women has been outstanding. They have really played to their strengths which will surely speed up the restoration process. We are so grateful for the support of the many strong and kind people who have come forth,” she said.
● If you can help The Clothing Bank, call 073 321 1911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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