Knights Community Closet, Fulfilling A Need For Students

Knights Community Closet fills an unused classroom at Claypool Elementary, where students in need can shop twice a year for clothing. The program is overseen by Julie Reed and Robin Harman, with help from student council members and other staff members.
Shown getting winter clothing prepared for the fall shopping excursion, from left, are Annabel Parker, fifth-grade student council member; Julie Reed, coordinator; Allison Slone, fifth-grade student council member; Robin Harman, assistant coordinator; and Kaleb Kline, fifth-grade student council member. (Photos by Deb Patterson)

CLAYPOOL — Imagine being a child and having to attend school wearing clothes that are torn, several sizes too big, stained, no socks, or shoes either too big or so worn they are ready to fall apart.

This happens every day in many schools, especially schools designated as Title 1. These are schools where a large number of students fall below the poverty level. Parents try as best they can, but often it’s a choice between paying rent and/or utilities, putting food on the table or purchasing clothing.

Annabel, Allison and Kaleb arrange the backpacks available.

Julie Reed, nurse at Claypool Elementary School, saw this happening. She went to Melissa Rees, principal, with an idea, which was embraced and space provided. Thus the start of Knights Community Closet for students at Claypool Elementary. “The kids feel so much better about themselves,” said Reed.

This program, along with other programs, where staff and Reed are attempting to meet the needs of their students, makes Claypool Elementary unique.

It is a simple program. Letters are sent home with students where there is a need. With parental permission, twice a year — fall and spring — those students are allowed to shop at the store and fill a large bag with clothing, jackets or coats, and shoes and/or boots. All that is asked is to give back by donating any clothing they may have that is too small.

“You see the excitement in their eyes to pick out their own stuff,” said Reed. She added “the neediest kids are the most giving,” noting there has been 100 percent return from the participants. But the program is also teaching these young people giving is a gift, teaching responsibility and to help others in need. “They get to feel the joy of giving, themselves.”

Knights Community Closet is in its second year and has helped numerous elementary students. The first year 90 percent of those invited participated.

Annabel and Kaleb prepare the winter scarves, gloves and hats for the fall shopping excursion.

Reed, who has been with the school corporation for eight years, learned about a similar program in the Fort Wayne school system. At the time she was at another school in Warsaw Community Schools where there was no need. But when she came to Claypool, she could see a desperate need. Knowing “there is so much wealth and blessings in this community,” she gave it a try. “The Lord’s hand has been all over this, otherwise it couldn’t have happened.”

Reed, who is assisted by Robin Harman, noted the response from the community has been overwhelming since the beginning. Items, such as clothing racks and hangers, became available when needed and donations of clothing – appropriate for children in kindergarten through sixth – poured in. Businesses and organizations have pitched in providing specific items, such as winter coats. “We have kids wearing anywhere between 3T to adult sizes,” Reed said.

While Knights Community Closet began with clothing it is expanding to include basic toiletries — toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant. The school has also expanded its boomerang backpack program. Partnering with a local church 44 food backpacks are sent home every other week filled with items for a big meal. Again there’s a simple requirement – return the backpack.

The programs are not about entitlement. “It’s giving them a hand up and about education where they don’t have to worry about food and clothing and can focus on education.”

Staff assist Reed and Harman in operating Knights Community Closet, but the biggest helpers are members of the school student council.

There are other areas making Claypool Elementary unique. Some students live in homes with no running water or bathing is optional, or there’s no electricity. Showers are made available at the school and the store is always available for those having immediate clothing needs.

“There’s no shame among our students. We support, respect and love each other. Our students don’t tease others for having less,” said Reed.

To learn more or to make donations, contact Reed at (574) 566-2300.

Annabel Parker, Kaleb Kline and Allison Slone, members of the Claypool Elementary Fifth-Grade Student Council, volunteer their time to arrange clothing in the Knights Community Closet. They are shown preparing the winter coats that will be available.

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