It’s hard to focus in the classroom when your basic needs aren’t being met at home – when you arrive at school still hungry because there wasn’t enough food to go around the table at breakfast or you’re chilled to the bone from walking to school in a threadbare jacket that’s seen better days.
Teachers often pay for snacks, clothing, and other basic items out of their own pockets; they want their students to do well and be able to concentrate, but more importantly, it’s hard seeing children suffer.
Niota Elementary School in eastern Tennessee has roughly 600 students enrolled in grades pre-K through eighth, so the students’ needs vary. But they’re being met thanks to Vanessa Bateman and Heather Malick, two kindergarten teachers whose “Comfort Closet” idea aims to provide the school’s children with these necessities “with no judgment, no questions, and easy access.”
“The last thing we want our students worrying about are these basic needs,” Vanessa said.
They came up with the idea after talking about times when emergency supplies have been needed after an accident or nasty spill at recess and how teachers frequently spend money out of their own pockets for these items. Instead of waiting on students’ parents to come with an extra set of clothes or shoes, didn’t it make more sense to just have a steady supply on hand?
So they started collecting gently used clothes and shoes and unused toiletries (thanks to donations from local businesses) in a storage room, and it was an immediate success. School officials report 10 or more students discreetly “shop” in the Comfort Closet each week, taking items as they’re needed – not only clothes but also shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and feminine hygiene products.
Tonya Broyles is a registered nurse who provides hygiene items through a separate program, the non-profit SUDS 4 Students organization.
When families have to prioritize basic needs, food will be at the top, and hygiene items will move further down or even off the list. Simply put, this means there are children (who) go to school every day (who) have had to compromise or not meet basic hygiene practices that most of us take for granted.
As the Comfort Closet program took off, the school sent out letters to parents, explaining the concept and asking for more donations. And the community has gladly heeded the call, hauling in everything from clothes and shoes in all sizes to gift cards, some of them donated through a recently installed drop box located at the school.
Aren’t these teachers the greatest? They not only look out for their students in the classroom, instilling knowledge and life skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives, but take the time to listen so they know the kids’ needs are being met outside of school as well.
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