Four Batesville Intermediate School employees have banded together to insure that foster kids and other disadvantaged children have the clothes and personal care items they need.
The idea of So Loved Clothing Closet began when fifth-grade teacher Kayla Suits started volunteering as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate. The children for whom she was advocating were removed from their home. She recalls, “They didn’t get to take anything with them. The foster mom called and was upset about it. I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get you some things to get through the weekend.’ I called Jamie (Nobbe, a third-grade instructional assistant), who’s a foster mom. She said, ‘Kayla, you know this happens all the time.’”
Suits, Nobbe and more friends immediately started searching for clothes.
Fourth-grade teacher Shannon McBeath reports, “We adopted four kids out of foster care about eight or nine years ago ... So many people donated so many things when we first got them, because they come with very little.” Her kids washed some of their outgrown clothes and put outfits together to pay it forward. “They enjoyed taking part in that.”
A Sept. 14 phone call began the process of brainstorming to find a space so more kids could be aided. BIS principal Dana Cassidy told Nobbe, “I have a space. Let me see if we can make it happen.” A few days later superintendent Paul Ketcham approved turning a former computer lab (now each student has a computer in the classroom) into the needed closet. He was “very supportive and pleased,” says fifth-grade instructional assistant Kris Beal.
A BIS teacher suggested modeling the initiative after a closet at the school where she formerly taught in New Palestine.
On Oct. 1 the team started filling orders, according to Suits. That month, thanks to word of mouth and a Facebook page, 36 orders were filled for children newborn-18 in Ripley and other counties. The women contacted Indiana Department of Child Services caseworkers, CASAs, school counselors and One Community One Family — “all the people who have their hands in the lives of these kids” — and told them to please spread the word.
While initially they worried about having enough donations to fulfill the needs, “the community has been phenomenal!” Beal emphasizes.
McBeath remembers, “That first week, we had all these clothes in here” in white cardboard boxes. Nobbe, by then the So Loved Clothing Closet president, wanted to buy 20 plastic totes with lids for better storage. “By the end of that week, we bought out the Greensburg and Shelbyville Walmarts” and individuals donated more.
To raise funds, the women posted a T-shirt design on Facebook that urged, “’Be the Village # So Loved.’ Seventy-five people ordered shirts within 24 hours,” then Nobbe had to make them. About $1,400 that was collected went toward the fee to become an official 501©(3) charity.
McBeath reports, “In five weeks the room was filled” with used attire that will gain a second life. Suits, who is the group’s vice president, wants families and individuals to know “we are so thankful for their support. Our motto is ‘Be the Village.’”
The former computer lab already had convenient counters that are divided up into boys and girls areas, perfect for sorting and folding clothes.
Now the room boasts 100 totes full of gently used, stain free clothing and shoes sorted by sizes and genders; a hanging rack with winter coats, sweatshirts, dresses and prom dresses; and a closet containing diapers, wipes, underwear, socks and hygiene items.
“We constantly look for deals,” Nobbe says. When Kroger has wipes on sale for 99 cents, the news is posted to Facebook, so supporters can buy and donate them.
McBeath says, “It’s overwhelming to think this has all happened” in such a short time.
The volunteers realize they are helping some students who surround them each school day. When asked if foster children attend BIS, Beal answers, “Lots.” McBeath adds, “If you consider foster care and kids in kinship care, being cared by relatives.” Three out of 26 students in Suits’ classroom last year were in the foster system.
With about 150 foster children in Ripley County, “we’re doing a Christmas wish list at Batesville Christian Church” that will provide gifts and clothing for all. “The Community Church of Batesville also gave us a $500 donation to help buy shoes and other items.”
In addition to BIS families and churches, other contributors so far have been Twice Blessed Resale of Oldenburg Academy and Forethought, which organized a shoe drive. The Big Four Cafe will give a free cup of coffee to any customer who donates a toy or toiletry. The Mayor’s Youth Council is planning a donation drive, while the Ripley County 4-H Horse and Pony Club will complete a fundraiser.
McBeath observes, “We’re very blessed to live in a community where people are committed to investing in each other.”
In addition to the four founders, there are four major volunteers who keep the closet humming: BIS PTO President Kendra Basler; BIS parent Laura Beaver; third-grade teacher Cindy Weisenbach; and Wendy Meyer at H&R Block, who did all of the 501©(3) paperwork so that the organization can accept tax-deductible contributions and apply for grants.
What’s next? To get ready for Christmas, East Central High School swim team members will volunteer Dec. 7 to accumulate service hours, according to Beal.
Two fourth-grade teachers — McBeath and Sarah Stoneking — and special education teacher Lauren Boesken applied for and received a grant so they and their students, who are studying natural resources, can make recyclable canvas bags, which will be filled with clothing and messages of hope.
Suits vows, “We will take care of these kids. We want them to feel so loved, even if they’re in terrible circumstances. They said it takes a village to raise a child.” The people in this area make up “the best village.”
Beal recalls when a single mom stopped by while she was volunteering and went away with a pile of necessities. “She was so thankful, she was in tears when she left.” Two orders have gone to children housed at the Safe Passage domestic violence facility.
The vice president relates, “I just took a coat last night to my CASA kid. She was ecstatic,” saying, “’I can’t wait to wear this at recess.’”
Nobbe says the adults “thank us, but we’re the ones getting the blessing from it.”
Suits concludes, “We really need people to use the closet. We want foster families to be reaching out to us as a first contact. We have all the resources.”
Nobbe promises, “What we don’t have, we’ll find.”
“We will help anyone who needs it.”