The right fit

Clothing closet helps middle school students in need

To donate items to the Jemtegaard Middle School clothing closet, call 954-3500 or e-mail Julie.bristol@washougalsd.org. In addition to clothing and shoes; hygiene items and non-perishable food are also needed.

To donate items to the Jemtegaard Middle School clothing closet, call 954-3500 or e-mail Julie.bristol@washougalsd.org. In addition to clothing and shoes; hygiene items and non-perishable food are also needed.

As a young child, Mary Murray remembers going to school in dirty clothing and old shoes.

“Clean clothes were rare, and clothing in good repair was non-existent,” she said. “I had to duct-tape my shoes because we were allowed one pair for the year, and by spring they were almost sole-less.”

Murray, a math teacher at Jemtegaard Middle School in Washougal, noticed that she was surrounded by children in similar circumstances.

“If they have breakfast in their bellies, we are very fortunate as educators,” she said. “Many kids are coming to school with clothing that is either dirty, torn, ill-fitting or just plain inappropriate for school. Several students had shoes that were not weather-ready.”

She decided to ask school social worker Julie Bristol about the possibility of starting a clothing closet, so that kids in need could get necessary items.

“My own daughter told me about a child in Camas at Liberty Middle School who started a clothing closet, and that was all the inspiration I needed,” Murray said.

Bristol volunteered to let her office at Jemtegaard be used as a drop off point for donations, and it was soon filled to overflowing.

“I would have to literally push clothes aside on the conference table so that I could see people when I talked to them,” she said.

Soon, the operation was moved into an empty portable, and donations continue to come in.

“I think the hardest part is the kids knowing that it is here and available for them,” Bristol said.

To help with the collection efforts, Murray held a soup dinner fundraiser in Camas, where she lives.

“I could not believe the outpouring,” she said. “I had been given so much that it took me several trips to get everything to Jemtegaard. I am still receiving donations from friends who want to help.”

Bristol noted that the clothing closet has also come in handy for students who come to school wearing inappropriate clothing. “We can send them there instead of home,” she said.

If students need items that are not available in the closet, a “principal’s checkbook,” provided through a grant from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, is an option.

“If we don’t have it, then we can go and get it,” Bristol said.

Currently, the closet is in need of boys clothing, girls and teens plus-size clothing and shoes.

“Tennis shoes are the most helpful because they are so versatile,” Bristol said. “But we will take anything in good shape, whether new or used.”

Bristol noted that the biggest benefit of having a clothing closet is that students get to shop for themselves.

“I have girls who come in here to shop and it is really exciting for them,” she said. “Those same kids have mentioned they have clothing at home that is too small and they want to donate it. They get to have the generosity and give it as well.”

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