LAS Clothing Closets: Meeting Students’ Needs Where They Are

Being a teen is tough enough without having to worry about ill-fitting clothes drawing unwanted attention. Fortunately, local students have a resource at Lowell High School and Lowell Middle School which can help with that.

The Arrow Clothing Closet provides clothes and personal hygiene products to high school students while the Arrow Assist Closet is available to those at the middle school. Both offer a discreet way for students to receive assistance, whether they need items to keep or simply want to borrow clothes for a day because their outfit got dirty or stained.

“Anyone can use it,” explains Allison Butkus, a teacher who helps manage the The Arrow Clothing Closet alongside students from her resource classroom. “We don’t ever tell the kids no.”

“There’s no questions asked,” adds Michelle Winter, who is the testing center coordinator and helped organize the high school closet.

It’s one more way that Lowell Area Schools is stepping up to assist local families and meet student needs in a way that is accessible to everyone.

The Arrow Clothing Closet: Born from the Pandemic

The Arrow Clothing Closet at LHS

Creating The Arrow Clothing Closet has been a three-year project, according to Butkus.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when learning was done remotely or on a hybrid schedule, teachers began informally working together to provide for students as they became aware of their needs. Emails were traded between educators to figure out who had shoes or clothing to share or where a good deal could be found.

“Our teachers have a lot of responsibilities,” Winter notes and so she offered to help organize a clothing closet at the high school. While she headed up the project, she is quick to point out that many people helped make it a reality. “It was a team effort to get it off the ground.”

FROM generously donated 100 items to help stock the closet, and the project was also listed on the fundraising website DonorsChoose. Within about a week, $2,000 was raised to fund initial purchases for the closet. Among the donations was a $1,000 anonymous gift. “We have no idea who did it,” Butkus says, but she is grateful.

Today, students who need clothes can scan a QR code to make a confidential request to shop the closet. They can also speak with their guidance counselor who can arrange for them to select clothing or hygiene products. Items are offered free-of-charge for students to keep.

Closet Provides Skills Training for Students

Molly and Melanie Wade provide a tour of The Arrow Clothing Closet.

Although Butkus maintains the closet, she doesn’t do it alone. Students from her resource classroom, which is part of the LAS Special Education Department, help launder clothes, stock them and organize the closet displays.

“I do like folding,” senior Melanie Wade says. “It’s easier.”

Melanie explains how she and her sister Molly will wheel down a cart to the closet with items that were borrowed temporarily and have been laundered. Some pieces are folded and stacked on a shelf while others need to be hung on rods. Like her sister, Molly is a fan of folding as opposed to hanging.

And hygiene items such as deodorant and shampoo? “(You) put it in a basket,” Melanie says, pointing to a section near the rear of the closet.

In this way, The Arrow Clothing Closet fills multiple needs. Not only do those who need clothes have an avenue to obtain them, but students learning transition skills get valuable hands-on experience.

Arrow Assist Launching at Lowell Middle School

Arrow Assist Clothing Closet at LMS

After seeing the success of The Arrow Clothing Closet, school counselor Melissa Simkins has been working to get a similar resource in place at Lowell Middle School. Dubbed the Arrow Assist Closet, it doesn’t have as many items as the high school closet…yet.

“It’s great seeing the community support,” Simkins says. A DonorsChoose campaign for the middle school closet was also successful in raising seed money for the project.

Clothes, coats, backpacks and personal hygiene products are among the items offered through the closet. “I’m hoping to have personal hygiene kits ready to go,” Simkins says. These will include essentials such as deodorant and hair products that can be given to everyone using the closet.

To access the Arrow Assist Clothing Closet, students can submit a Google Form on their school Chromebook. That request will go to their school guidance counselor who will arrange for them to visit the closet and pick out the items they need.

Similarly, at both the middle school and high school, parents can talk to their child’s counselor if they would like to request items for their student from the closet.

How You Can Support the LAS Clothing Closets

LAS students organize clothes in The Arrow Clothing Closet. Photo courtesy of LAS.

If you would like to ensure the LAS Clothing Closets have enough items to meet student needs, you can drop off a check at either school’s front office. Gift cards to Amazon and Meijer are also appreciated.

“Sometimes there is an immediate need (for something not in the closet), and a social worker will run to Meijer,” Winter says.

The closets have also obtained specialty items for students when needed – such as for those enrolled in the construction program at Kent Career Technical Center who needed steel-toed boots.

What the schools can’t use is donations of used clothes. While Butkus understands that people might want to drop off bags of outgrown clothes, that would quickly overwhelm the space. After all, these are literally closets.

Rather than drop off clothes, consider a gift card or cash donation that will allow the closets to buy the items and sizes needed.

For the latest news on the LAS clothing closets, you can follow the LMS Arrow Assist Facebook page or join The Arrow Clothing Closet @ Lowell High School Facebook group.

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