The Giving Closet Project repurposes unclaimed lost and found items

By Angela Higginbotham
angela@floridanewsline.com

Student homelessness has doubled in the past 10 years and former teacher Jennifer Smith is helping many students feel more loved and comfortable in the classroom.

A major problem reported by Northeast Florida schools is a dysfunctional or forgotten lost and found system to serve its students. Personal belongings are lost daily and the majority of schools do not have the capacity to face the growing piles of clothing and supplies. Smith felt that these lost items could be utilized to meet the needs of students living in situational poverty. The Giving Closet Project was developed out of the desire to help schools revitalize their lost and found areas into successful donation centers for students in need throughout the community.

“I came up with the idea of laundering the lost and found clothes and then putting them neatly on hangers on a rack, so disadvantaged kids could select clothes for themselves,” Smith said.

As a teacher for 15 years, Smith saw first-hand the negative effect situational poverty can have on a child’s success in school. Budget cuts and lack of resources — food, school supplies, hygiene products or clothing — have a detrimental impact on not only a student’s academic success, but also their social, emotional and behavioral growth at schools all across the area. The Giving Closet Project was born in April 2016 and is now a thriving success for children in the community.

Many schools in Duval and St. Johns County have requested The Giving Closet be available at their school, but focus is currently on the two schools already open along with gaining additional support. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Jacksonville and The Webster School in St. Augustine are schools that offer a location for children to gather items they need. Lost and found items are picked up from many schools in the area to service these two locations.

“We feel really great about what we are doing and we are filling orders for thousands of students now,” Smith said. “During the next school year, we really want to spread more awareness in St. Johns County.”

An effort is being made to form a business model and develop as much awareness as possible. Events such as One Spark in Jacksonville have helped open doors and bring in new help and sponsors.

“I can’t thank our sponsors like the Junior Service League and the Community First Cares Foundation enough. We have a great board and great support so far, but to make the biggest impact, we need more help. We need more volunteers and space for storage and washing machines,” Smith said.

With an ever growing amount of inventory and children who need help, volunteers are critical and sponsors are vital to the success in reaching and helping as many children as possible.

Visit www.givingclosetproject.org for more information and to learn how you can help.

 

Photo courtesy Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith with the board she created for One Spark.