By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton County Public Schools is participating in two programs that seek to reduce absenteeism and bullying by making sure all students have access to clean clothes.
The Kids Closet was the “brain child” of Northampton High School Assistant Principal Heather Marsh, who first shared the concept at the Northampton County Education Foundation State of the Schools forum in 2019, said Liz Jones, who is on the boards of both NCEF and NCPS.
A host of volunteers put together the first Kids Closet over the summer of 2019, which is housed in an extra classroom or storage room in NHS.
Community members donated gently used clothes, and hangers were donated by a local department store. The NHS carpentry class built shelving for the Kids Closet, which opened at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.
Items in the Kids Closet range from T-shirts and other everyday clothing items to winter coats, as well as hygiene products like deodorant and lotion.
The Kids Closet is open to all middle and high school students, so there’s “no stigma attached” to using it. “My daughter is constantly shopping in there,” Jones said.
All of the clothing and supplies are free to students to borrow or keep – “whatever the student’s most comfortable with,” she said.
Whether a student needs a new clothing item for regular or temporary use – for example, if something was spilled on clothing at lunch – the Kids Closet is ready to help.
The Kids Closet program also is in Occohannock and Kiptopeke elementary schools on a “smaller scale,” Jones said.
The Kids Closet doesn’t have a specific location in either elementary school, but it supplies teachers with clean pants, socks, and other clothing items young students might need.
The high school Kids Closet is currently seeking donations of sweatshirts and winter coats as the weather turns colder. Volunteers also are collecting formal dresses, shoes, and accessories in anticipation of prom season.
Monetary donations are also accepted. In response to requests from local churches that wanted to donate, NCEF established a Kids Closet fund in January 2020, which has received more than $7,000 to date.
To donate, visit www.ncedufoundation.com and click on the “Click Here to Donate” button. When filling out the donation form, select Kids Closet from the dropdown menu in the field labeled “Direct My Donation to.”
Jones said, “I love the Kids Closet. It’s one of my favorite projects.”
Loads of Love
Students who don’t have clean clothes are more likely to miss school and are more likely to be bullied at school, Jones said.
The Loads of Love program began with middle school PE teacher Kim Applegate and Student Success Coach Amy Flournoy, who learned about and applied for a laundry program grant from the Washington Football Team, formerly the Washington Redskins.
Northampton High School qualified for the program as there is only one laundromat in Northampton County, in Eastville.
The high school was awarded a grant around January 2020 of nearly $10,000 to purchase industrial laundry equipment – two washers and two dryers.
Detergent and dryer sheets are provided, as well as mesh bags in which students can out their laundry.
The students can do their own laundry after school or during their spare time during the school day. A student might start a load in a washer or dryer between classes and fold the clean clothes during lunch, or there are volunteers available to help – whatever works best for each student.
Teachers also may use the laundry equipment, and eventually parents and families will be welcome to use the laundry facility, which is in the mini gym, behind the main school gym.
Allowing students’ families to come to school and use the washers and dryers was always in the original plan for the laundry program, but it was waylaid due to COVID-19.
Once Northampton schools become more open to the public, families will be invited to use the laundry room, which they will find complete with a couch, books, and magazines to use while they wait for a load to finish.