Drop by Phyllis T. Lise’s home and you’ll see piles of clothes on the living room sofa, boxes of clothing stacked against walls, and plastic bags full of shoes and other stuff.
However, the piles, bags and boxes are not a sign that Lise is becoming a hoarder.
Instead, the Wesley Chapel woman is the founder of Dressing Angels, a charity that, according to its mission statement, “actively seeks to put God’s love into action by providing gently used clothing and shoes for the mentally ill and those in need.”
Lise was inspired to start the charity after her son was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.
When she went to see him at mental health facilities or accompanied him on appointments, she noticed that many of the mentally ill patients were wearing clothing and shoes that were dirty or worn. At one facility, she heard patients complaining they were cold. They weren’t wearing any socks, she said.
“Their families had abandoned them,” Lise said.
She decided she needed to get involved.
“This is something God wanted me to do,” she said. “Somebody has got to help. Somebody has got to do something.”
So, she and her husband Fred found time outside their full-time jobs to start purchasing clothing and shoes at thrift shops and garage sales. Lise then launders the clothing and packages it to deliver to mental health facilities, group homes and to schools in Pasco and Hillsborough counties, which have large enrollments of poor children.
The charity also helps the homeless.
The need is great, Lise said.
“The mentally ill, they’re the forgotten in our community,” Lise said. “The stigma is still there. If I tell you I have breast cancer, you would feel so sorry for me. If I told you I had heart disease, you would feel sorry. But if I said I had mental illness, you would treat me as though something is wrong with me.”
But mental illness is pervasive, Lise added. Of Florida’s approximately 18.3 million residents, close to 660,000 adults live with serious mental illness, and about 181,000 children live with serious mental health conditions, according to statistics reported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Lise has encountered many people who have family members or friends who are mentally ill.
“Every time I talk to somebody, they’ll say, ‘I know somebody, my relative …’ People do not realize how prevalent mental illness is in our society,” Lise said.
After she launched the charity and began making appearances in television and radio interviews, she became much more attuned to the scale of the issue.
“You don’t know how many people are suffering until the story gets out there and people start emailing you with their stories,” Lise said.
She acknowledged that she, herself, didn’t realize the extent of the issue until her son was diagnosed. He was 17 when she began noticing something was wrong.
“All of a sudden, he stopped taking a bath. He stopped eating. He stopped brushing his teeth,” she said. “He started having signs of dementia, like mumbling. He couldn’t put his words together.”
Initially, she thought he was using drugs. But he told her he wasn’t. They both spent months visiting doctors before he was finally diagnosed, she said.
Besides donating items to mental health facilities and schools, Lise and her husband also visit a homeless camp where they donate clothing and cooking utensils.
Once a month, Lise delivers 50 bags of clothing to a school in Pasco or Hillsborough county. Each bag holds a week’s worth of clothing.
Some of the clothing she gives away has been donated, but Lise and her husband purchase most of it, she said. They spend much of their time shopping for bargains.
“I go to all of the Salvation Armys. Goodwill. Mom-and-pop thrift stores,” Lise said. “I go to a lot of garage sales because you can find a lot of clothes for like a dollar.”
Dressing Angels Teen and Young Adult Group
People between the ages of 14 and 26 meet the second Saturday of each month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the North Tampa Library, 8916 North Boulevard.
The group might participate in arts and crafts, watch movies, go on field trips to the Museum of Science & Industry or out to bowl.
• Clothing: Gently used or new clothing of all kinds for all ages.
• Gently used or new tennis shoes, shoes, sandals or boots for all ages.
• Donation center space where people can pick up clothing and shoes, and also can meet for support meetings and activities.
• Laundry detergent
To help, call Phyllis T. Lise at (813) 498-7967, or email .
For more information, visit DressingAngels.org.
Published Feb. 19, 2014