TIPTON, Ind. (AP) — Gena Schultz can recall the deals she got on practically every piece of clothing hanging from the five racks currently set up in a former food arts classroom at Tipton Middle School.
Schultz, a guidance counselor at the school, has spent every spare minute in the past few months shopping to further her personal mission of making sure every student in need has at least one new outfit to get them through the school year. Her vision is now coming to fruition.
"We've had so many kids who have never had a new outfit. Especially for older kids, clothes are expensive," said Schultz, who has worked at Tipton Middle School for 20 years. "It was exciting that first week of school when you had that new outfit. It does something for you. And this won't be someone telling them 'this is what you get.' They get to pick."
Her project is called My Closet, and it will open in January to provide clothes for Tipton students in sixth through 12th grade whose families can't afford new outfits for them. The shopping experience will be completely confidential, and Schultz plans to expand My Closet to offer clothes for kindergarten through sixth graders too in January 2016.
Students can come in once a semester and pick out a completely new outfit, plus take home some socks, underwear and other necessities. My Closet will be open in the evening one day a week, and parents can make appointments to come in with their children at other times.
With just two letters to area businesses requesting support, Schultz has collected almost $11,000 for My Closet. About $2,000 worth of clothing has been donated, and other businesses and church groups have contributed items like hats, gloves, socks and some shoes. Absolutely You Salon in Tipton also donated certificates for free haircuts for My Closet patrons.
"The Tipton community has embraced this and ran with it. I just feel like this is a community project," Schultz said, adding that she's "just lucky enough to be in charge of it." ''It's going to be a totally different experience. We have really good (second-hand) places, but this will be all new."
It's important to Schultz that the clothing is brand-new and that students have a variety of options to choose from so they feel like the outfit is all their own.
Her mission has resonated with others in the community.
"The thing that's been rewarding is I've had adults in the community going 'that was me,'" Schultz told the Kokomo Tribune (http://bit.ly/1tcEqu7 ). "They're really successful now, but they had maybe one new outfit a year when they were in school, and now they want to give back."
Schultz began working on My Closet about a year ago, when she was recovering from three surgeries and had plenty of time to think about how to make her idea a reality. Soon she was shopping at Kohl's, Old Navy, T.J. Maxx, Aeropostale, JCPenney and similar stores whenever she could to stock My Closet.
"It takes a lot of clothing if you're looking at 11 to 19 year olds, boys and girls, all shapes and sizes," she said. "If I don't have sizes for a kid for what they need, I'll do my best to find it."
Now, Schultz is meticulously hanging and organizing her purchases, making My Closet as close to a true shopping experience as possible. The "store" is set up in a food arts classroom at the middle school that is no longer in use, and an adjoining classroom will be converted into a dressing room.
Those interested in making a donation to the cause can write a check to Tipton Community Schools and put "My Closet" in the memo line.
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Kokomo Tribune