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From Jamaica to San Diego, nonprofit founder continues to provide for those in need

San Diego Union Tribune logo San Diego Union Tribune 11/28/2020 Lisa Deaderick
a person standing in front of a curtain: Twelve-year-old Sharia Linton and her mother Shamine of Sharia's Closet, a nonprofit organization that provides free clothing to individuals and families in need. (Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune) © Provided by San Diego Union Tribune Twelve-year-old Sharia Linton and her mother Shamine of Sharia's Closet, a nonprofit organization that provides free clothing to individuals and families in need. (Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The strong, compassionate, big-hearted women in her family were a clear influence on Shamine Linton’s life, as she was growing up as a little girl in her home country of Jamaica. It was there, on her rural farm with goats, chickens and produce, that her grandmother taught her kindness and how to care for her community. Linton’s aunt was like a second mother to her, who supported Linton’s own mother, who’d had her as a teenager and experienced rejection and discrimination from others for having a child so young.

“The environment I grew up in gave me the desire to want to be the change I want to see. … If we harvested a big crop of potatoes, all our neighbors would receive potatoes, free of charge,” she said of the influence her upbringing had on her. “My mother, despite all the obstacles she faced, chose to raise me with courage, empathy and love. My mom exemplifies resilience and courage to me. She made me the woman I am today.”

And the woman that Linton is today is the founder and president of Sharia’s Closet, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency for San Diego families and individuals experiencing financial hardship or other crises.

Linton, 42, was recently recognized by RISE San Diego during the organization’s annual Inclusive Leadership in Action Awards, as recipient of Collective Resilience Advocate award for her work with Sharia’s Closet. She lives in southeastern San Diego with her husband, Shane, and their children, Shamari and Sharia. She took some time to talk about her work and passion for helping others, and her dream of continuing to help more people in need.

Q: Tell us about Sharia’s Closet.

A: We provide personalized empowerment in the form of new or gently used clothing and personal hygiene essentials for San Diego’s most vulnerable populations: victims of domestic violence, survivors of human trafficking, and those experiencing homelessness.

In 2004, my family and I collected clothing and took it to the land of my birth, Jamaica West Indies, where we distributed to those in need. The joy and relief this brought to my people filled me with a passion and desire to make serving others my life’s work.

We serve community members in need through direct referrals from local social service organizations. Typically, a case manager within a social service agency or nonprofit program, conducts a needs assessment with their client. If clothing is needed, they submit a request to us. A volunteer at Sharia’s Closet packs a customized bag of hand-selected clothing for each individual, based on their preferences. We supply clothing, new undergarments, shoes and personal hygiene kits. These personalized bags are usually available to the client within a day or two.

Q: Why was this something you wanted to do?

A: As a child, I experienced clothing insecurities. In an abundant country like this one, I believe no one should be without proper clothing. So many people within our community lack basic necessities, such as clothing and toiletries. These people include domestic violence victims, people experiencing homelessness, those who have lost their jobs and those being released from jail/prison. They struggle for basics like money, food and shelter. We are here to give them clothing, personal hygiene products and diapers, when needed. We want to be part of the solution to their struggles and to put a smile on their faces.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work with Sharia’s Closet? What kinds of adjustments have you had to make, beyond the basics of wearing masks and social distancing?

A: Following the public health guidelines has made our work harder. We now ask that all donations are laundered, sorted and labeled before being donated, and we wash and dry donations that are not labeled. The most difficult part has been not being able to personally meet with our clients, and being able to see the joy on their faces when they look at the goodies in the bag.

Fundraising has also been impacted because donors cannot come experience and be inspired by Sharia's Closet firsthand, and the financial impact of the pandemic makes it more difficult for some people to continue to give.

What I love about southeastern San Diego ...

I love the fact that I am just minutes away from the beach, I can plant and harvest from my garden year-round, and I appreciate my neighbors.

Q: I understand that you named your organization after your daughter? Why? And is she involved in the work with the organization?

A: I chose to name the organization after our daughter because I was told that it would be extremely difficult for me to conceive after our son. She was a miracle to our family. Then, at the age of 5, she became extremely ill and we weren’t sure if she would be here with us today. Naming the organization for my daughter is part of the legacy I leave to my children; they are both living examples of kindness and compassion, treating people with love, empathy and respect.

Sharia calls herself one the founders and often helps out with folding clothes and greeting donors. During our recent online fundraiser, she made us all proud with a beautiful speech about what this place means to her.

Q: You received the Collective Resilience Advocate award from RISE San Diego at its annual Inclusive Leadership in Action Awards last month. What did it mean to you to be recognized in this way?

A: It is an absolute honor to be recognized by the community for our service and resilience. Some days, it just feels like you keep your head down and get everything done, try to keep the lights on, and gas in the truck. Then, there are those days when your community steps up to honor you, and it feels really good.

Q: Why is your work with Sharia’s Closet important to you?

A: It is my divine purpose. I thank God for planting the seed of serving with purpose in my heart, and for sending angels along the way to assist on this journey. There is no greater joy than to be of service to others.

Q: What has your work with Sharia's Closet taught you about yourself?

A: To meet people where they are. I always try to see and treat people beyond their current situation or circumstances, (believing in) the highest and best for them. I always strive to be of service without judgment.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: Do all the good you can, while you can, for as long as you can.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: I am afraid of heights.

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: My ideal weekend would be a retreat in nature, surrounded by water (an ocean or lake), catching a beautiful sunset with some relaxing reggae music and a nice glass of wine.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.


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