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Photo contributed by Valerie Stansberry / Valerie and Jason Stansberry collect donations for her Costume Closet during this year's Labor Day @ Post 214 event. Both the American Legion unit which hosted the event and the Chattanooga Valley Lions Club have been big supporters of the project, which has proven invaluable amid the pandemic, she said.

If Valerie Stansberry can help it, the pandemic will not ruin Halloween, and the Fort Oglethorpe resident is asking for the community's help to make the holiday a reality for those who may not be able to afford to celebrate by going all out on costumes.

" ... I think a kid needs to have fun and a kid needs to have something to look forward to," said Stansberry, who has a 7-year-old son.

She's bringing back her Costume Closet for a second year, soliciting donations of new and gently used costumes and accessories and unopened makeup. She washes and disinfects everything she receives, she said.

"I've not seen a lot of discouragement. I'm going to firmly stand beside that's because we were so diligent that what we were giving out was clean last year," Stansberry said.

"I've seen a lot of people very much wanting to have Halloween and feeling like we need to have something where kids can get out," she added.

At her first collection event, held at the American Legion's Labor Day @ Post 214 event in Rossville, she said she received a $50 donation — "which is huge, especially for right now" — and six bags of costumes, everything from Freddy Krueger to Darth Vader.

"I'm not just getting pirates, I'm getting what they know the kids want," said Stansberry. "The community is not doing the bare minimum, they're going above and beyond for their neighbors."

The response, both this year and last, is heartening, she said.

How to help

Valerie Stansberry accepts donations year-round for the Costume Closet, and hopes to generate enough support to one day launch a Christmas store where kids can shop free of charge for members of their family. To schedule a donation, contact her through her nonprofit organization’s Facebook page at facebook.com/communitycostumeclosetWCCHH.

 

She's hoping for another successful donation day at the Chattanooga Valley Lions Club's Valley Fest being held Saturday, Sept. 19 at Chattanooga Valley Church of the Nazarene in Flintstone. She will be set up from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. as part of the festivities, which include a car show, live music and craft vendors.

With the awareness Stansberry built last year coupled with COVID-19's far-reaching impacts, she expects the need to surpass the 300 costumes she handed out last year.

Her first confirmed "open day" this year is scheduled for Oct. 24 at the community-wide Pumpkins and Paws benefit at the American Legion.

"I want to serve everyone who comes to me. If I have 400 people come, I want 400 people to walk out with costumes," she said.

Stansberry operates the closet like a library, allowing people to take what they need, no charges or questions asked. She just asks that costumes be returned at some point if possible and still in good shape.

"A lot of people are like 'I don't need a handout.' That's not what this is. This is a pop-up shop for costumes," she said.

And she treats it like such. The costumes are neatly displayed on racks; accessories organized on tables.

With the variety of styles and sizes — which include adults — Stansberry said most everyone is able to find something that jumps out at them. If not, she enjoys helping them scour the racks and tables to create a costume they're proud of.

Their beaming smiles are all the reward she needs.

"To watch it come to life and surpass the expectations of what I thought it would be and what it means to the community, there was no way I could not bring it back," she said. "It needs to stay around because it's something that brings a little bit of joy for kids."

Contact Jennifer Bardoner at jbardoner@timesfreepress.com.

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