It started with an idea to buy shoes for The Clothing Closet. But when school social work supervisor Laura Chiarello heard the proposal from CSI Gives Back, she pushed back gently. “New shoes are like dessert,” she said. “You want them, but you probably don’t need them.”
What many Duval County students do need are school uniforms. About 30 percent of the county’s schools require uniforms and purchasing them can be a hardship for some families. In 2013, Duval County Public School social workers started The Clothing Closet, a clothing resource for those in need, located at Southside Middle School. The Closet provides new uniform basics: khaki pants and short sleeve polo shirts in basic primary colors. Students are referred by teachers and social workers who hand-deliver items directly to their home.
“The referrals and deliveries are confidential to maintain the privacy and dignity of the student and the family,” says Chiarello. “In fact, we know sometimes that parents don’t always tell their child that the new clothes were donated. And we’re perfectly fine with that.” Although a partnership with local vendor Poindexter Uniforms allows the school system to purchase a whole uniform, top and bottom, for just $12, it has been a struggle to find funding to stock enough colors and sizes to meet the need of about 500 student referrals every year.
CSI Gives back dedicated the proceeds from its inaugural gala to funding the DCPS Clothing Closet. The June 29 event raised $10,000, which will be used for shirts, pants, and some extras like socks and underwear.
They’ll go to students like the 13-year-old middle schooler who showed up for a meeting with social workers wearing a jacket on a searing hot day. When asked, he admitted that his family was living in a hotel room week to week since his dad lost his job at the local car wash. His only school polo had been lost in the move, so he was wearing the one item he owned that was the right color for his school. When he received his new black polo, he was thrilled. And he quietly informed a social worker that another student and his family were living at the same hotel. They’d both had trouble with attendance because the local bus route didn’t run at the right times or drop them off near their school. Social workers were able to allot resources to these students for transportation, enabling them to get to school on time and in the right uniform.
Sometimes, a change of clothes can change a life.
The 2020 CSI Gives Back gala will be held on June 20, 2020. They plan to donate the proceeds to The Clothing Closet once again and hope to raise enough money to add in the purchase of those shoes as well. Director of CSI Gives Back Becky Lowry, CMP says, “We believe that everyone deserves dessert at least once in a while.”
To learn more about CSI Gives Back, please visit csigivesback.org.