Helping the needy dress to impress

Helping the needy dress to impress

Former Great Neck Rotary Club member Mark Krieger said he remembers his mother helping to pay for the funeral of one their neighbors who died when he was growing up in Lynbrook.
It was the good faith efforts of his mother, Krieger said, that led him to a life of giving back and eventually founding Beautiful Memories Gemach, a clothing pantry located at Young Israel of New Hyde Park.
“It taught me a lesson,” he said. “My mother’s helping somebody she doesn’t even know, never even saw and that stayed with me.”
Krieger, who lives in the Queens section of Floral Park, opened Beautiful Memories Gemach three years ago with his wife, Beth.
Traditionally, gemachs served as a free-loan program for those needing financial assistance. But now, gemachs lend articles of clothing or other physical item needs.
Beautiful Memories Gemach has racks upon racks of dress clothes for everything from religious events to weddings to business occasions.
Krieger said it was the “largest one-of-a-kind gemach in the tri-state area” that offers wedding gowns, dresses, suits, jewelry, shoes and other clothing items.
While most gemachs require patrons to return items that they take, he said, Beautiful Memories Gemach allows some to keep their items.
Krieger said since he gets such an influx of donations from Great Neck, Manhasset, Port Washington, Roslyn and other areas both in Queens and on the North Shore, he is able to allow people to keep the items, especially if they are for a significant day such as a wedding.
While Beautiful Memories Gemach has found a lot of success, the charity clothing pantry started from the bottom.
Krieger said after giving a presentation at the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in Roslyn during the pantry’s early stages, he was contacted by Susan Berman, the JCC’s Director of Volunteer and Community Initiatives, who said she wanted to help him out.
“She took my gemach from a high school baseball team to the New York Yankees,” he said.
Beautiful Memories Gemach has grown and developed relationships with charitable organizations, immigrant groups, veteran groups and other local groups who bring those in need to get proper dress attire.
Krieger recalled assisting a woman from a local psychiatric facility, who said to him that he “did not understand” what getting nice clothes from him meant to her.
“Nobody treats me like you and your volunteers with such love and respect,” he said the woman told him.
Krieger, who works for a health and wellness company called Melaleuca, has dozens of stories of needy people thanking him for his services and appreciating what he can offer them.
Although the gemach makes some money, he said, it all goes towards Young Israel of New Hyde Park and keeping the gemach open. None of it goes directly to his pocket, he said.
“It makes you feel good. Who doesn’t want to feel good?” Krieger said. “Everybody’s got problems, this will take your mind off it. You just get to help people.”
Beautiful Memories Gemach, he said, serves people off all ethnicities and religions.
“It’s just amazing because everybody comes here,” Krieger said. “We don’t ask for how much money you make, we don’t care what religion you are, I just have to make sure you’re OK.”
The pantry’s success has led for a larger need for both volunteers, which Krieger calls “Gemacheteers,” and more organizations to bring people needing clothing because of the influx in donations.
“We’re looking for more opportunities to service organizations,” he said. “I need people who don’t mind sorting the clothes and especially helping other families shop.”
While he plans to continue running Beautiful Memories Gemach, Krieger said he wants to extend his services and teach people how to operate this type of clothing pantry.
“I’d really love to go around to different neighborhoods and help them do this,” he said. “I don’t care where.”

By Joe Nikic

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