WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — Over the past year, we’ve told you how the need for food assistance has skyrocketed under the pandemic. What does that mean for other, less essential needs?
As Vice President of Community Service for NCJW Cleveland Heather Schlang put it: “When we were watching TV last summer and saw people in line for food… if you can’t afford food, how are you affording clothing?”
The organization knew it needed to grow to meet a growing need. Now volunteers meet regularly to pack up clothing, hygiene items and school supplies for children in crisis. The program is called Share What You Wear.
It started as an annual back-to-school event in 2008. “We noticed a couple years ago there was sort of a change in community need,” Schlang explained. They worked to set up a community closet at Bedford High School until the pandemic shut down schools. Then they built their own community closet in the organization’s Warrensville Heights warehouse.
These women are picky about what they pack up. They know clothing can be a source of confidence and self-esteem, and they want kids looking and feeling their best. They also know the classroom isn’t the only place kids want to dress their best. Program co-chair Niki Resnick explained, “We’ve heard that there’s a lot of children who do not have what they need to be able to attend school, even virtual school. We’ve heard kids don’t even have the proper clothing to get on camera.”
Each bag has three outfits, pajamas and seasonal items ranging from winter coats to swimsuits. The organization recently installed a washer and dryer for clothing that needs to be freshened up. They don’t pack anything that’s too worn down, stained or full of holes. That all gets recycled.
These bags are coordinated through schools, agencies and social workers. They might go to kids down on their luck because of the pandemic, kids from families torn apart by domestic violence, or kids who just lost everything in a fire. Once they find out what’s needed, volunteers get to work asking for a child’s favorite color, animal, or anything else they can find out to make their bag customized and special.
“We want kids to be excited when they open this bag,” Schlang said.
You can learn about the program and how to donate by clicking here.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.