Kids’ Closet and Teen Closet Help Youngsters Build Self-Esteem

Volunteer Josie Heyl (right) helped Jasmine De Los Reyes select new clothing during a Teen Closet shopping trip at Ross Dress for Less.

Nancy McCluskey-Moore

For the past 26 years, Kids’ Closet has been providing children with new school clothing to raise their self-esteem and encourage school attendance. This SaddleBrooke Community Outreach (SBCO) program began when a group of women in SaddleBrooke discovered that local children had poor school attendance because they needed to share shoes and clothing with their siblings. In the beginning, the women purchased used clothing at thrift stores, washed the items, and then distributed them to children in Oracle. Over the years, the program has grown to serve the needs of children along a 100+ mile corridor stretching from Catalina to Miami. Each school year, in the fall and spring, students from these rural communities arrive at the Kids’ Closet in Mammoth to choose new clothing. Children eligible to receive free meals at their preschool or school are referred to the program.

In the 2022-23 school year, 2,820 students in preschool, elementary, and junior high/middle schools received clothing from Kids’ Closet. Students came from Head Start programs and 15 schools in 10 communities. In the fall, each student chooses three pairs of pants, three long-sleeve shirts, a jacket, a knit hat and gloves, a pair of shoes, six pairs of socks, six pairs of underpants, toiletries, and two books. In the spring, each student selects three pairs of shorts, three short-sleeve shirts, and a sweatshirt in addition to shoes, underwear, toiletries, and books. Volunteers serve as “personal shoppers,” helping the kids select clothing and shoes that fit.

Since new wardrobes and personal care items are just as important to high school students, SBCO hosts Teen Closet shopping trips twice a year, in January and July. Teen Closet began in 2001, helping seven students in the Catalina community. Today the program serves students in six high schools. Schools identify students entering 9th grade who would benefit from the program based on family need. To continue in Teen Closet, each student must attend school regularly, attain a passing GPA, and perform six hours of community service each semester to receive $250 to purchase clothing, shoes, school supplies, and personal items. Students who graduate from high school in the spring are given one last shopping trip in July, when they purchase items for their dorm rooms or apartments, in addition to clothing. In 2022-23, 143 students, assisted by an adult volunteer who served as the student’s personal shopper, shopped at Target and Ross Dress for Less in Oro Valley. Teen Closet has given teenagers the opportunity to attend school with pride of person, knowing that they have earned this benefit through their hard work and mindfulness of the needs of others in their community.

The next Teen Closet event will be held at the end of July. If you would like to participate, please email [email protected] to have your name added in our volunteer list.