Jersey Shore Area Middle School’s care closet brings community together

JERSEY SHORE — Seeing a need among the students, two teachers at the Jersey Shore Area Middle School set about fulfilling that need by establishing a “care closet” for any student in the district.

“We looked at the kids and noticed a need and decided we could meet that need,” said Hayley Enders, special education-life skills teacher at the school.

Those needs included hygiene products, such as shampoo and deodorant, as well as clean clothes and clothes that fit.

“Things that were keeping them at home instead of getting them to school,” Enders asserted.

In a district where about 52 percent of students qualify for reduced or subsidized lunches, Enders and Tracey Silvis, seventh grade science teacher, could see what the problem was, although they stressed that teachers are by law not permitted to know which students are actually considered economically disadvantaged.

Because of that, the two teachers had concerns about how to connect with students who needed to utilize the care closet.

“We really worried about that,” Silvis said. “We tried to come up with a lot of different avenues that they could contact us, we could get them there, that no one would know. Even the way we laid out the room is in a way that if you look in the window you can’t really see anybody who is in there looking around. We really worried about that,” Silvis stressed.

It turned out that their worries were not justified. The students began coming to the care closet on their own in the morning when it was open before school.

“They’re less private about it than we anticipated,” Enders said. “We really wanted to respect their confidentiality and we still have all those avenues available. Email, we have a mailbox or they can just come to us. They can come during the open times. They are just not as private about it as we thought they would be.”

“I think they just come in and it’s not like there are people just standing outside the door watching to see who is walking in,” Silvis said, adding “they just come in.”

“They’re like I need it I’m going,” Enders said with a laugh.

Enders shared that she was walking down the hall recently and a girl stopped me and asked if the care closet was open and could she go.

“That’s what we want kids to do. We want them to know that they can just come to us and say I need that — okay, let’s go,” Enders said.

“We’ve had a great response to it — students and the staff,” she added.

“Yesterday I had a teacher, who noticed somebody’s shoes. The kid had told him he was wearing his mom’s shoes and they were too small. The teacher tried to get the student to just go down (to the care closet) and he didn’t want to come down. So, the teacher found him in the morning… and said ‘come on I have this donation to give and I want you to come with me.’ We found that kid a pair of shoes and he was smiling ear-to-ear and he was wearing those shoes when I saw him this morning,” Silvis shared.

Both teachers shared that teachers who aren’t involved with the care closet can bring students to the care closet, as well as the school nurse, guidance counselors or just about anyone in the district.

“The principals have taken multiple students down,” they added.

“Almost everyday there is somebody in the care closet,” Enders said.

Sometimes students might come to the care closet for one thing, such as shoes, and while there they admit that they also need hygiene products, which is something the Enders and Silvis encourage. So where do the supplies for the care closet come from?

“We have a whole list of people who have told us, ‘if you have a kid who needs something specific, and you don’t have it, you call me,’ “ Silvis said.

“Individual people in the community have come to us confidentially and said ‘we want to do this,’ “ Enders said.

Enders, who teaches the life skills class, said that her class has benefited from helping to set up the care closet.

“My kids are learning life skills through doing this,” Enders said. “They set up the care closet, they organize it, they fold everything, they keep things by sizes and organized, they hang things up. I’m the one who gets called when there are donations. Pretty much everyday I get called to the office, at least once. Today I’ve been there four times for donations,” Enders said.

Silvis and Enders shared that about the only things they have purchased so far for the care closet have been hangers and clothing racks. Everything else, including hygiene products, has been donated. They added that they will accept any type of donation — clothing and monetary.

At times they will post a specific need on the Facebook page they started for the care closet.

“We had a kid who asked for one of those drawstring backpacks one day. This gives me chills when I think about it. He wanted one of those backpacks and we didn’t have any, so we said ‘let’s see what we can do,’ “ Silvis shared.

“A teacher in the building had one and gave him that one day, but we said that could be something other kids would use. So, we put it on the Facebook page — do you have these as an advertising thing from your business, stuck in a closet somewhere, you got it as a freebie and you’re never going to use it. We could use some. That was about 2:30 in the afternoon, by 9 o’clock the next day we had 54 drawstring backpacks,” Silvis said.

“When we put a need out there, the community is meeting it,” Enders said.