Middleburg Life Magazine

Clothes, Coffee and Community with Tree of Life: Tree of Life Purcellville

This article originally appeared in Middleburg Life magazine. 

Written by Shayda Windle | Photos by Gracie Savage

Tree of Life, a faith-based nonprofit serving all of Loudoun County, was started by a small group at Purcellville Baptist Church in 2008. The group’s mission has always been outreach to those less fortunate in the community. As the ministry grew, the need for additional community support became more apparent, and in 2012, CEO Paul Smith registered Tree of Life (TOL) Ministries as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization so they could work with other churches. Today, the ministry partners with churches all over Loudoun County, as well as Loudoun County Public Schools, businesses, and individuals to serve those in need through five main branches: food, shelter, health care, relief, and life skills.

Their work includes food pantries and weekly community dinners in Purcellville, Leesburg, and Sterling. The volunteer-supplied meals are offered to everyone, no questions asked. For shelter, the organization operates a transitional housing program and recently announced they are expanding by adding six family homes in western Loudoun. Housing is subsidized by the ministry to offset the high cost of rent in the region. Two units in western Loudoun are currently available, and those in need are urged to apply for them, as they go fast.

Tree of Life recognizes that developing life skills is something that can help those who need a hand up rather than a handout, and — in that vein — Tree of Life has two gospel enterprises which offer workplace opportunities for those in need: The Clothing Closet and SimplyBe Coffee.

Clothing with a Cause

The Clothing Closet, established in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, operates as a boutique thrift store with locations in Purcellville and Leesburg. As ministries of Tree of Life, the gospel enterprises share a common vision: “to plant the Tree of Life model in new communities to the glory of God,” says Susannah Lee, the recently appointed CEO of Tree of Life.


Clothes, Coffee, and Community with Tree of Life
Outside The Clothing Closet, a boutique thrift store in Leesburg

With past experience in retail, Lee conceptualized The Clothing Closet to create opportunities in the field for those less fortunate. With Smith’s support, TOL expanded the ministry, opening the first Clothing Closet in Purcellville. In 2023, they opened a second Clothing Closet in Leesburg, alongside SimplyBe, providing employment opportunities for those with disabilities.

Dedicated to sustainability, The Clothing Closet promotes a circular economy by taking in gently used clothing and selling it. Their voucher program offers free clothing to those in need, facilitating access to these resources and fostering community support while combating the environmental impact of fast fashion. Diane McDuffie, store manager of the Purcellville location, reflects on the joy of witnessing the transformative impact of the ministry. “I enjoy the relationships I have made with the customers and volunteers that come in weekly. I love making an impact in the community by serving those in need. I love seeing God work through this ministry and bring joy to so many people,” she shares.

Melissa Barton, store manager at The Clothing Closet in Leesburg, explains that The Clothing Closet is “so much more than a store. … The dignity of the shopping experience, the excitement of the volunteers who are given an opportunity to shine that usually are never given a chance, and the lessons taught to the next generation to donate cannot be encapsulated in a single quote. You must experience it yourself.”

Because The Clothing Closet sells high-quality clothing at such affordable prices, inventory turns over quickly and unsold items are recycled or donated, reducing waste and environmental impact. Families appreciate the exclusive shopping experience, expressing a newfound sense of dignity. While sustainability and conservation through their gospel enterprises are undoubtedly crucial to the organization, the heart of The Clothing Closet’s mission is perhaps best explained by the Bible verse Matthew 25:36: “I needed clothes and you clothed me.”

Clothes, Coffee, and Community with Tree of Life
A Beautiful sign featuring Matthew 25 and jewelry at The Clothing Closet in Purcellville

Coffee, Too

Attached to The Clothing Closet’s Leesburg location is a coffee shop called SimplyBe Coffee. An extension of TOL’s Still Waters ministry, the coffee shop provides employment and volunteer experience to individuals with special needs. To find volunteers and employees for the shop, SimplyBe partners with ECHO, DARS, Loudoun County Public Schools’ CAST program, and other agencies that work with individuals with disabilities.

“We were created for the purpose of educating and ensuring every staff member feels loved, accepted, and is an important member of society, preparing them for independence by giving them every chance to learn new things and add to their skill sets,” says SimplyBe Manager Cheryl June. “Our goal is to continue bringing awareness, not only to our mission, but with the hope more businesses see the value in providing this opportunity. We are so blessed by our extraordinary staff. I believe we learn more from them. One cannot visit SimplyBe Coffee and leave without being affected or changed.”

Clothes, Coffee, and Community with Tree of Life
The team at SimplyBe Coffee.

Assistant Manager Susie Smith, who helped open the first Leesburg location in 2020, previously taught special education and helped oversee Loudoun County’s Young Life Capernaum ministry. “It is so special to see these young adults, who I have known for over a decade, out in the workforce, implementing a strong work ethic, learning life skills, and being given opportunities they otherwise may not have been given. To see these individuals excelling in their jobs, gaining purpose, and bringing joy to all who enter the shop speaks to the value of every single human,” she shares.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the coffee and snacks are “the best,” according to a customer in the shop. The most popular items on the menu include homemade gluten-free almond bars, lattes, their monthly featured drinks and desserts, chai lattes, and cold brew. The shop frequently hosts special events like SimplyBe Unplugged, where customers can enjoy live acoustic performances from local artists on Saturday afternoons. Then there is Coffee with a Cop, where local police officers from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, Leesburg Police Department, and even Virginia State Police come out to enjoy coffee with customers. Customers may also rent the lounge, the new conference room, as well as the full venue after hours.

Clothes, Coffee, and Community with Tree of Life
A shelf of delicious pastries at SimplyBe Coffee in Leesburg

Connecting Community: Tree of Life’s Front Line

By providing food, shelter, health care, relief, and life skills to those in need, Tree of Life is not only promoting a sustainable community but one that is faith-based and built on hope. And, Lee says, while “at Tree of Life, Jesus Christ is foremost, it is important to know that we serve people of all faiths or no faith. Our programs are offered without religious strings of any kind. It’s truly our heart to serve.”

Through their numerous initiatives across Hunt Country and beyond, Tree of Life Ministries weaves a tapestry of interdependence that strengthens the bonds among this community, where some of the most affluent and most challenged reside together. Their mission creates a supportive local network of hope, but their work cannot be accomplished without the help of volunteers and donors. Learn more about the ministry and how to get involved at tolministries.orgML


Published in the April 2024 issue of Middleburg Life.