By LANIE ALFARO
Shamine Linton opened Sharia’s Closet (named after her daughter) in 2013 with hope, joy and love in mind as she formed a grassroots organization that was called to serve its community. In pre-COVID times, the non-profit shop located at 6244 El Cajon Blvd. in the College Area served thousands of community members.
“3,785 individuals. That’s the most I have served in one year,” Linton said. “When you break it down and hear every story, it’s heartbreaking but also uplifting because you get to be a sprinkle of hope, a sprinkle of joy, a sprinkle of love.”
Over the past year, Sharia’s Closet kept its doors open to anyone who needed clothes, free of charge. But it is so much more than just clothes to Linton.
“The work we are doing at Sharia’s Closet is not just serving people, we’re providing hope, love, and dignity. You can’t sell love in a bag,” she said.
Linton saw firsthand the impact of COVID-19 on various clients as the pandemic took a massive economic toll on San Diego County and beyond. Families and individuals served by Sharia’s Closet have a variety of backgrounds: active duty military, at-risk youth, current foster care, disabled, experiencing disaster or crisis, domestic violence, homelessness, etc.
“That truth doesn’t make it to the news, but that is the reality of people’s lives that we’re serving in San Diego,” she said. “I serve people that you’ll never hear about or read about.”
Linton hopes to change the narrative in these underserved communities by building new pillars of hope through the services available at Sharia’s Closet.
“Where I grew up, the true sense of family extends beyond just your immediate family. You’re acting in an unconditional, selfless way and that is transferred to everyone around you.”
During November 2020, Sharia’s Closet did a series of Facebook posts called the Stories of Gratitude Campaign. In these posts, people who received assistance shared their testimonials on how this organization helped them get out of the situations they were in. Sebastian, a client who received aid wrote, “With their help, I was able to go to several interviews with a new confidence. I received a referral through other companies and eventually landed a good job. People don’t always think about clothing, and how something small like that can make a big difference. Just getting some nice clothing helped change my career, and changed my life for the better.”
Linton said that the individuals she works with often are nervous to ask for help because of the societal stigmas but her message is: “There’s no shame in asking for help.”
One’s situation or background does not deter them from getting assistance, Linton added.
“People come and we don’t speak the same language, but I speak a love language. Being able to transfer where your standing to putting yourself in their shoes, that is a beautiful transformation. When we package the clothing, these receivers know that someone genuinely cared. They were hand-selected, prepared for their body type. Everything is specifically for them,” she said.
Given the free time many people had during this pandemic, Linton said there has been a large influx of donations, but some of the donations did not show the love and dignity Sharia’s Closet hope to convey in their work.
Over quarantine, Sharia’s Closet “became like a dumping station,” she said. “That is not the intent. That’s the disheartening part for us.”
Linton wants to encourage people not to “forget what its like to be outside of ourselves,” especially as they go through their closets to donate. She encourages all who are hoping to donate to educate themselves and see what sorts of clothes the organization is looking for.
“It is rewarding when people actually take the time to research and watch the tutorials — learn how to wash and size the items,” she added.
Even more importantly, she asks for a shift in perspective.
“This could be you. Think about the type of energy you’re transferring or giving,” she explained. “When you’re donating something that brought you joy, you’re going to transfer that same joy to someone else through that piece of clothing. Maybe up until this point, that is the most love they have felt in their entire life.”
The work of Sharia’s Closet has not gone unnoticed over this past year. On Feb. 9, Sharia’s Closet was the recipient of the Outstanding San Diegans award from San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott.
Sharia’s Closet has given out to date 14,199 bags of clothing to individuals, but they will not stop there. Linton believes this is a long-term effort to love and help the community.
“The environment in the community and family, those are the pillars — the developmental stages of helping you to transform into the person you’re meant to be and called to be,” she said.
— Lanie Alfaro is editorial intern for San Diego Community Newspaper Group.