Providing Food, Clothing for a ‘Very Giving Community’

Missi McPherson, the district’s educational support services coordinator and homeless liaison

The already humid atmosphere inside former classroom No. 8 in Greenridge Elementary School got even stuffier recently as families streamed into the cramped but tidy space.

But nobody was complaining: They were there to shop for free clothing, home and food items for their families. It was one of the final opportunities for summer clothes; in the coming weeks, the entire inventory will be swapped with cold-weather wear currently in boxes stacked to the ceiling.

What: The Giving Closet, free used clothing and non-perishable food items for needy Comstock Park families

Where: Greenridge School, 3825 Oakridge St. NW

When: 4-7 p.m. on Aug. 23 and 9-11 a.m. on Aug. 30

More: Future dates are still being determined, but will be posted in the district’s e-newsletter and quarterly bulletin. Families also can call Missi McPherson for an appointment at 254-5016

Donations: Always accepted during open hours. Items most in need of: new underwear and socks for all ages

The Giving Closet, started by the Comstock Park Community Outreach Organization, has been providing resources for struggling students and residents since 2012. Though its immediate success meant it had to relocate from an actual closet after its first year, both the name and the spirit of its mission have remained.

Case in point: As four families slalomed through racks of clothing for all ages, a young boy and his mother arrived with two boxes overflowing with clothes and toys to donate. In addition to being a school district that has its share of need, said Missi McPherson, educational support services coordinator and homeless liaison, “We also have a very giving community.”

Growing Need

The number of district families needing support services has grown dramatically in the past decade, McPherson said. District-wide, the number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch has surpassed 60 percent. And the number of homeless students, referred to as students in transition, was more than 70 last school year, up from 35 to 50 in 2012.

“I think location plays a big role” in the Giving Closet’s popularity, McPherson said. “One in four of our (school district) families comes from York Creek Apartments, and not everybody has transportation to get to other resources,” she added, referring to the large complex less than a mile away.

The Giving Closet is open three times a month during the school year and twice a month during summer. It’s open to all needy families in the community, McPherson said. A limit of two bags filled per family per visit is encouraged. Families also are allowed to select up to 20 non-perishable food items per visit.

A district family shops for clothing

McPherson said the number of families who visit during open hours is anywhere from around six to 45, with the most coming during back-to-school season.

“When a mom comes in in tears and tells us her son has grown three sizes during the summer and she doesn’t have money to get him new school clothes? It’s frustrating and rewarding all in the same breath” to be able to help.

As a single mother with two “very growing kids” in the district, Tracy Davis said she was glad to find out about the Giving Closet. She was so grateful and supportive of the resource, that now she volunteers — often with son, Austin, and daughter, Faith, in tow.

 

“They gave to me, so why not give back to them?” Davis said.

They Built the Closet

The outreach organization responsible for starting the Giving Closet is a faith-based group representing local businesses, governmental, educational, religious and community service organizations formed in 2011. Donations come from a variety of sources, from businesses to individuals.

The organization has opened the York Creek Community Center to serve the at-risk and Hispanic population with various types of programming, held senior activities and offers English as a Second Language classes. McPherson said they also provide resources to help students complete high school and earn GEDs, as well as diplomas past age 18 through Sparta Area Schools.

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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