SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – As the weather gets colder, everyday items like clothes and hygiene products become more important than ever. Just ask Andrea Harp with Care to Learn (CTL).

“One of our students in one of our districts came to school in what their parent thought was the warmest item in their closet and it was pajamas,” Harp said. “Most of us know that’s not going to cut it.”  

OzarksFirst learned this is why three groups in Springfield are partnering up to help kids learn more in the classroom.  But it’s an effort that doesn’t involve a change in teaching style. CTL’s Springfield chapter is working with Crosslines and Springfield Public Schools (SPS) to add clothing closets to 31 schools.

“It’s to help students focus on learning,” Harp said. “We want to reduce anxiety. We want students to know that there is hope and someone else has got their back. Who has got their back? The school has got their back, Care to Learn has got their back, and the community has their back. So, the community closet project is one example of that.”

Harp says this fall, CTL is working with school nurses to give them clothing and hygiene items. Everything comes from CTL’s donations inventory at Crosslines. When school nurses tell Harp about a need, her team comes to that school to set up a closet.

“What’s important is these are what students might need on a day-to-day basis,” Harp said. “They could come to school unprepared to face the day ahead. But, Care to Learn is partnering up with SPS and Crosslines so that students don’t have to have that anxiety. We’re going to provide them that hope and we’re going to take care of that need.”

At schools like Watkins Elementary, students can grab and keep something. Patti Elliott is a registered school nurse who helps give things out.

“There’s been several times that children and families have been in crisis,” Elliott said. “This has been a real big impact on families and their lives. It’s so important because then [students] could academically stay focused in school. These kids have a big smile on their face when they get something. At first students are down, sad, upset, thinking that they have to go home, miss class and activities with their peers. When they get the clothes they feel better and more confident they can return back to school.”

CTL actually started its clothing closet project a few years ago, but with 14 schools. Recently, a federal COVID-19 relief fund helped expand this program to 31 schools.

“It’s been such a huge impact in our community,” Elliott said. “Before we had the clothing closet, we were asking a lot of community help to donate to the school to help. We don’t have to do that anymore. Care to Learn has provided those resources to us.”

Harp says CTL hopes to expand this program after 2022 to even more schools.