JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A local teacher brought community leaders and organizations together Thursday to open Jacksonville’s first Giving Closet, a full-service clothing assistance program to help students in need.
School administrators told News4Jax that a lack of resources accounts for growing attendance issues. It's an issue many families are facing. In Duval County alone, there are about 2,700 homeless students.
"There was a mom who shared with me that her children wouldn't be here on the first day of school. When I talked further with her, it was because she did not have uniform shirts for them to wear," principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. FAME Academy, Cindy Gentry, said. "It's really heartbreaking."
Founder of the Giving Closet, Jennifer Smith, said it all started with recycling lost and found clothes.
"I know myself and many other teachers and social workers that have been digging into their own pockets to provide clothing and shoes to their students. So there's definitely a need," Smith said.
She expanded the project a year later to the one-stop-shop at the Martin Luther King, Jr. FAME Academy.
"It starts off with this referral filled out by teachers and administrators and consulting with parents on things they made need. Then volunteers come in and pick out the items based on the information written on the referrals, and the students will receive their care packages within a week," Gentry said.
The Community First Cares Foundation helped fund the first Giving Closet by donating everything from clothes and shoes, to hygiene products. The Giving Closet wants to make sure that students of all ages in Northeast Florida can focus on their education and not their clothes.
"It's sad, but starting this project, we're opening our eyes and getting the community involved," Smith said.
Referrals are already stacking up and volunteers are busy filling care packages. Organizers said there are already plans to open another Giving Closet in St. Johns County.
The Giving Closet is not open during school hours. Parents have to contact their school counselor or teacher, who will fill out a referral. The Giving Closet is always in need of new or gently used clothes and shoes. They are also in need of school supplies and hygiene products.
Click here to learn more about how to donate or volunteer at the Giving Closet.
Copyright 2017 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.