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Sharing the blessings

Success Closet and Packer Pantry working to address student needs

In an effort to help students in need, schools in Austin are taking a proactive step through the Success Closet and Packer Pantry programs.

Working with success coaches at the schools, Success Closet strives to provide clothing items for students in middle and elementary schools — anything from jackets to shoes.

“We’re working directly with the success coaches at the schools,” said Barbara Mitchell, who works with Success Closet. “They then reach out and we’ll provide whatever the students at that school are in need of. They get a hold of us and then we can find a donor who can provide what they’re looking for.”

Mitchell said Success Closet also helps support its Austin High School counterpart, the Packer Pantry.

“The Packer Pantry is an area located at the high school where you can get anything,” said Mallory Brown, a junior and student representative at AHS.

Aside from clothing, the Packer Pantry also provides food for students in need.

“We accept food, we accept gift cards, we accept cash, we accept clothing of any size and style,” Brown said. “We accept hygiene products and shoes; anything you can think of, we’ll probably take it.”

Faculty and staff at the schools have made an effort to help identify needs among the students for the Success Closet.

“Our teachers and staff do an amazing job in looking for kids that are in need, whether it’s jackets, shoes, gloves or hats,” said Enrique Camarena, a success coach at IJ Holton Intermediate School. “We are so lucky to have these amazing families that help us with this. We can call them and they provide us with those items right away.”

“This is not one person; this is a whole community effort,” he added.

“Every member of the staff is on board,” said IJ Holton Principal Dewey Schara, who noted that the school custodians will wash donated clothes.

Success Closet also accepts underwear and socks as well as personal hygiene items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant. They also accept cash and check donations to purchase items.

“We would like to be able to get to the point where our human resources and financial resources are such that we can help the students in need with those as well,” said John Kluczny, who works with Success Closet. “Right now, as we’re just starting, we’re focusing on the day-to-day needs of the students.”

Some of the more popular clothing items are those that display school spirit, which are often more expensive than other clothing items.

“We’re working on collecting school apparel,” Schara said. “Say that if my kid is at Neveln and is now at IJ Holton and doesn’t want to wear his Neveln Knights shirt anymore, he can turn it in and it gets washed and given to kids that don’t have the ability to purchase items like that.”

Success Closet also helps students find clothing items for extracurricular activities, such as basketball shoes, football cleats, orchestra pants and even prom dresses.

“These are some of those extra things that sometimes discourage some of our students from participating in those extra programs because those extra things might not be in a parent’s budget,” Schara said.

Students in need will not have to wait long to acquire a donated item.

“We got a call this week about a student who needed a coat; the parents weren’t prepared for winter maybe because of their jobs being laid off because of COVID,” Schara said. “We were able to make a phone call and get a coat in that child’s hands within 24 hours. That’s how awesome this is.”

Mitchell said those wishing to donate money to Success Closet can message her on the Success Closet’s Facebook page, which can be found at www.facebook.com/Success-Closet-109671667612921.

“For all other donations, we’re asking them to drop them off at Ellis (Middle School) or IJ Holton,” Mitchell said. “Or they can drop them off to (Kluczny) and I directly.”

Anyone in need of donated items are asked to contact the IJ Holton main office. If an item is not immediately available, Success Closet will attempt to find a donor.

Brown said that anyone looking to donate to Packer Pantry can bring donations to the main office. While Packer Pantry is normally open during school hours, Brown said that anyone needing something during distance learning can come to the school on Wednesdays.

Brown added that Packer Pantry is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

With the holiday season upon us, organizers for Success Closet and Packer Pantry are hoping people will consider donating.

“We’re hoping people will donate, especially at this time of year when we count our blessings and remember what we’re personally thankful for,” Kluczny said. “We hope people will share those blessings with the 20 to 25 percent of our students whose families fall within the poverty level area. We all know how stressful it is to fund and raise a family and how much work that can be. We would appreciate it if the citizens of Austin could help out with this particular need for that group of students.”