As an instructional coach at Rogers High School in Spokane, CISL Director Erin Jones was very aware that people perform better when they feel they look good. “Kids don’t feel good about themselves with holes in their clothes or when their clothes are too small. It is a distraction from academics.”
Her high school students were going to job interviews with no professional attire. They weren’t getting jobs and did not have money to upgrade their wardrobes.
She decided to show her students that they didn’t need to spend a lot of money to get nice clothes. She saw the opportunity to teach students that if you look carefully, you can put together a nice outfit on a budget. With the help of her students, she started a clothing closet at the high school.
- Get staff and administration’s buy-in.
- Find a room for the clothing closet.
- Associate the clothing closet with a class or club. This makes a great senior project.
- Do a clothing drive at school. Kids should learn to give from what they have.
- Come up with a purpose for your clothing closet. Some ideas:
- Business wear for students who work.
- Formal clothes for school dances.
- School clothes.
- Clothes for family members and community.
- In a poor community, ask schools in a nearby wealthier community to do a clothing drive. This becomes a community service project for them.
- Advertise at local businesses and nonprofit organizations. They will do a clothing drive for you. This is a good way to develop community partnerships.
- Involve your students in each of these steps. Let them feel a sense of ownership in running the store.
- Also ask local clothing stores to donate shelving units, hanging units, racks, and hangers. Your school’s shop class can help build shelves.
- Create a system to organize clothing and keep it organized. Invite community volunteers and enlist students to help. It is important to sort clothing by size.
- Discard any inappropriate clothing. Take the opportunity to teach students what clothing is appropriate.
- Consider partnering with the school’s special education students. When Erin did this, she found that students who weren’t typically involved did well with a specific task and were proud of their work. It brought students together with a common goal.
- Create a system to distribute. You may have a giant give away once a month. Advertise to the community. Make sure to have enough adult and student volunteers on site to manage the give-away. Have plenty of bags available. Teachers can recycle their grocery bags.
- Talk to local clothing stores about donating their excess clothing.
- As your work builds momentum, ask your local newspaper to write an article about it. This will bring more donations.
- Over time, you can expand your clothing closet to include school supplies, back packs, winter jackets and toiletries. Students who have just been evicted or experienced hardship can access the closet when they have lost these things.
- Organize a garage sale at the end of the school year to clean out the closet. Consider raising money for the school or charity.
- When there is a catastrophe or an opportunity to send clothing to a needy community, organize clothing to give away. Students who might not have thought they could give anything begin to brainstorm ways they can help others.
The project was not time intensive and was done on a low budget.
In addition to providing students with nice clothing, Erin noticed many side benefits to the project. Her students became more invested in their own community. They learned the gift of giving and started to come to the clothing closet to get things for their friends and relatives in need.
“It opens communication with local businesses and organizations. Once the relationships and partnerships are established, there are so many other things you can do together to meet kids’ needs,” said Erin.
The Assistance League of Bellingham has partnered with Whatcom Readiness to Learn to provide new clothing to over 900 children and sweatshirts and shoe vouchers to 350 middle school students. The program is open to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.
“Some of the kids that we serve don’t have socks, underwear or a toothbrush,” says Michelle Small from the Assistance League of Bellingham.
“We have a large homeless population,” says Mary Jo Durborow, the county coordinator for Whatcom Readiness to Learn. “Walking into school clothed like their peers gets them off to a great start at school. Coming to school with their basic needs met gives them a better chance of academic and social success. It makes a big difference when school is a safe place and you don’t stick out like a sore thumb because you have tattered clothes.”