Used Clothes, Shoes Heaps on the Lessons

The heap of donated clothes, shoes and boots that need sorting is staggering. It’s a daunting task for those not up to confronting a jumble of donations tossed into a disassembled stack. Then, the 40-plus Duncan Lake Middle School students arrive.

The students scoot into In The Image at S. Division Ave., a faith-based nonprofit, and right away, it’s apparent there’s no need to second-guess this group. They are motivated and eager to sort the donations by size and gender and, in the case of foot coverings, match them with their mate.

In The Image’s executive director Bethann Egann tells them they’ll be divided into three groups: Some will sort clothes and some shoes and boots. Others less fortunate are depending on them, she tells them.

At first blush it sounds fairly simple until the students gaze at a dozen or so gigantic cardboard boxes housed inside In The Image’s cavernous building. They are soon greeted by an overflow of gently used clothes and shoes that will be given away free to those in need.

The scads of clothing is a visual way to punctuate the fact there are indeed local families who’ve been hit hard by a house fire, flood damage, job loss, death in the family, or a cycle of poverty that still can’t escape from, according to 6th grade teacher Jessie Belote.

A student moves an assortment of winter coats for new owners to receive

Worn and Loved Again

For student Grace Roberts, is wasn’t just a matter of grabbing a swarm of shirts to sort by size. She sensed the work she was accomplishing is serving a larger purpose.

“I’ve never seen so many clothes in one room, except at Macys,” said Grace. “I can tell these clothes have been worn and loved and they’ll be worn and loved by new people.”

Duncan Lake has a mutually beneficial relationship with In The Image, said Belote. Twice a year, vehicles from In The Image arrive at the Middle School to pick up items students and their families want to donate. Personally seeing for themselves what becomes of those donations gives greater meaning.

“Knowing they can help is very empowering for a 6th-grader when they see what becomes of their donations, and who they’re helping,” said Belote. “It’s a humbling experience.”

Lessons of Concern

Helping at In The Image serves as a lesson of concern that keeps teaching students to think of others beside themselves. That’s why the 6th-graders will arrive in February at the Kids’ Food Basket and help assemble6,000 sack suppers for kids who otherwise would not have an evening meal.

And in May, they’ll link arms with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital’s Pediatrician Oncology Resource Team and help out in a way that’s still to be determined but will be tied in with Duncan Lake’s annual cancer walk.

“It’s good to help people and something like this helps people get back on their feet,” said Kamden Mulder. “I’ll volunteer here again.”

In The Image executive director Bethann Egann (right, bright blue shirt) explains to Duncan Lake Middle 6th graders the work they’ll accomplish

Logan Reynolds now understands that “free” and “reusable” have a legitimate place in the community.

“It’s not as new but it’s still good,” said Logan. “It can be reused. I know instead of throwing away the shoes I outgrow, I can bring them here.”

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