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How a 93-year-old Ukrainian saint shares clothing

April 11, 2016


The bent over, diminutive elderly woman with a headscarf, lifted her hands to the heavens and with a grateful spark in her eye, murmured some words in Russian.

She had gathered infant and toddler clothes from our clothing racks at the Trinity Clothes Closet, along with some dresses, sweaters and tops for women. We carefully folded and placed the clothing in three large white kitchen type garbage bags.

Her companion, a younger woman in her 30s commented in perfect English, “This is her work. She says it is a miracle.”

Her work? A miracle? Clothes donated which we in turn make available free to those in need?

Sometimes we wonder where all the clothes go and this night—because the two women seemed open to chat, I asked if the young woman had a baby—often a good conversational opening especially if the clients have gathered baby clothes.

“Oh, no, she sends these to an orphanage in Ukraine where the children are deaf—or blind, I’m not sure” the younger woman replied, adding “And some to her friends and family over there.”

I said appreciatively, “Oh, wow, that can get expensive.” She responded that the older woman uses her “retirement” to send the clothes.

Suddenly a book I’m reading about the horrible suffering and starvation experienced by people in the Ukraine during and after World War I in the early 1920s comes to life. Here was a woman—likely at least as old as my mother (91) who had been born into that misery in Ukraine about that time, the early 20s. The book is a biography (which I plan to review) of Orie O Miller, a Mennonite born in the late 1800s who was also moved as a young man by that torment and went on to be instrumental in founding the world wide Mennonite Central Committee (relief organization). How can it be that 100 years later humans are still inflicting such wretchedness on each other?


Nadezhda, age 93, and her granddaughter Natalya

I had to know more. I asked the younger woman for their names, if I could take pictures, and share the story online. She translated to the older woman who immediately pulled from her purse a bent brochure about her orphanage mission—which turns out to be for deaf children.OrphanageBrochure2


Natalya Zotov is the granddaughter of the older woman, Nadezhda Zotova, who is actually 93 years old. I didn’t find out how long ago she came to the U.S. but her granddaughter speaks great English so I’m guessing the family emigrated sometime after the opening of the Soviet Union in the early 90s when so many came to the U.S. as political refugees.

At the Clothes Closet our church, Trinity Presbyterian, operates, (with the generous help of volunteers from Muhlenberg Lutheran Church and a youth group from Harrisonburg Baptist Church), we have seen various waves of immigrants over the decades access the donated clothes—a supply which seems unending thanks to the shopping habits of (mostly) North American women. We had many visitors from the former Soviet Union in the 90s, folks from Mexico and Central American heavily in the early 2000s, and Iraqi and middle eastern refugees from 2005 on. (Of course there are many U.S. born and bred clients.) Some of these help us by donating clothing back to the closet and also volunteering—sometimes in order to get references for job seeking. In the past we have also been the recipient especially of Russian and Middle Eastern pastries. It’s been one way to stay in touch with and learn from other cultures without leaving home.

Sometimes we learn, like we did this night, that we are also partners in the “work” or ministry of women like Nadezhda, who come to the U.S., experience the bounty we have here, and so desperately want to share it with friends and family and ministries back in their home countries that they send clothing with folks traveling back (stuffed in extra luggage), load it in cars heading to Central America, or pay the hefty postage to mail or ship it. Nadezhda praises God for us, because to her it is a “miracle” that we give the clothes out free.

Yes, we know we are sometimes shafted—people who get clothes and turn around and sell them at yard sales. Not much of a way to get rich, but if it helps them pay rent or buy groceries, and as long as we North Americans go through as much clothing as we do, we don’t have a problem with it, as the supply seems endless. It also keeps the clothing out of landfills. (We do run short on infant and children’s clothing sometimes, especially for little boys. Wonder why?!)

The opportunity to share freely reminds us of one of the theme verses for our ministry from Isaiah 55:

“… you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Which in turn is a reminder of the beautiful and costly gift God gave to us—which we receive without money and no price.


Some of the faithful Trinity volunteers at the Clothes Closet.



Yours truly on a recent Saturday morning hanging up clothing.

I’d love to hear of others who have unusual outreach ministries like that of Nadezhda–at whatever age! 


Harrisonburg area folks, we invite you to share news of the Trinity free clothes closet with your church, and always welcome infant and children’s clothing! Here’s another post with additional stories.


From → Faith, Family Life

  1. Bless your giving heart – both at Clothes Closet and then sharing here on your blog.

    Even before Cliff and I went to Ukraine in 2011 where he did his art presentations in public schools, I had a soft spot for Ukrainians, a generous, generally soft-spoken, artistic people. Kathy Gould through the ABCs of Life ministry, a charity fund, supports orphanages and other ministries to children and families.Some of our tithe dollars go to her each month.

    Thank you for highlighting Nadezhda, a true saint, today.

  2. I had forgotten your Ukraine connection–how wonderful that you got to go there. Nice to know about your soft spot! I vaguely remember you mentioning some of these things on your blog.

    This was a story I could barely wait to share! I’ve seen this woman many times at the Closet, I hope to find out how often she makes shipments.

    • Our church and others send shipments to Kathy’s ministry – clothes and office/art supplies. They consider peanut butter a luxury.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Part II: Orie O. Miller’s World-Wide Reach | findingharmonyblog
  2. Resurrection People | findingharmonyblog

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