By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — With a large free and reduced lunch population, there are many families in need of assistance in Anderson Community Schools.
Aiming to help families needing aid in purchasing school uniform items, the Parent Advisory Council (PAC) of ACS is teaming with local churches to provide districtwide resources.
Every school already has its own small clothes closet, but beginning Oct. 1, both Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, 1610 Sheridan St., and First Church of the Nazarene, 23rd and Jackson streets, will be utilized as centralized locations for parents.
Each church has had a clothes closet for nearly 10 years and will continue to carry items besides uniform appropriate wear, but those who want to help ACS families can now make clothing donations at the two locations.
“The biggest thing is we want to help families,” said Cammie Slaven, PAC president. “There is definitely a need for it.”
Principal Scott Merkel said Erskine Elementary’s social worker and dean run its clothes closet, typically seeing one or two students a day.
In many cases, it’s because a child just doesn’t have clean clothes for the day or doesn’t have the needed item, he said, adding it can also be a disciplinary issue.
“We receive lots of donated little pieces here and there,” he said. “We tend to give out quite a bit.”
If the child needs the item, he or she may keep it, Merkel said. If not, the clothing can be returned the next day, washed and handed out again later.
He added that a centralized location for families will assist those who are struggling financially. At the schools, he said, they just don’t have enough to give out to help everyone.
There are other events, such as the annual Back to School Festival at Shadyside Park, that aim to help ACS parents with school supplies, but Slaven said the clothes closet has been wanted for a while.
At the festival over the summer parent Amanda Boyer said assistance like Back to School is a huge financial help, “especially with the older they (children) get.” Kids outgrow their clothing quickly, she said, and she has four of them in Anderson schools.
Anderson High School Principal Terry Thompson said faculty and staff “don’t hear need as much as see need.”
Like in Erskine and other buildings, teachers and administrators bring in items from yard sales and Goodwill, along with any donations from other sources, to keep in a clothes closet at the school.
And instead of immediately doling out punishment when they see a child is missing a dress code item, Thompson said, administrators try to pull them aside and see what’s going on.
On a weekly basis, Anderson High staff get 25 to 30 students who need assistance.
With a similar dress code and free/reduced lunch population of about 70 percent (Anderson’s is over 80 percent), Lafayette School Corp. has provided a similar system for more than five years now.
Lafayette’s director of kindergarten through eighth grade education, Karen Combs, said each school keeps clothing for kids in need on hand while the former Dungin Elementary serves as It’s My Closet.
“A lot of families are struggling,” she said, so vouchers for It’s My Closet are given to those in need. Combs said the teachers are very involved in donating items as the store was “started by two of their own.”
There are some limitations on the number of items families can pick up in Anderson. Frances Weatherly, director of Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church’s clothes closet, said parents can grab four or five pieces at a time while there’s a limit of two outfits per person present per month at First Church of the Nazarene.
She added that they’re excited for the partnership because the number of families the church serves has “grown over a period of years.”
“Anything we can do to help our community we’re glad to do,” Weatherly said.
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Where to find ACS uniform assistance or make donations ◆ Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, 1610 Sheridan St., every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ◆ First Church of the Nazarene, 23rd and Jackson streets, every third Tuesday of the month Monetary donations can be made through the Anderson Education Foundation's PAC Uniform Project account. The office is located at the ACS Administrative Building, 1600 Hillcrest Ave. Checks should be made out to the Anderson Education Foundation and indicate on the check's memo line that the donation is restricted for the uniform project.