Albuquerque, N.M. (KKOB) – This fall, Julia Fitzsimmons, a Community School Coordinator at Lowell Elementary school, noticed that one of her students was not playing with the rest of the kids at recess. “He was having a hard time with his shoes, they were worn out to the point that he was limping from the pain,” she said. Luckily, Fitzsimmons knew of a way to make the boy’s day brighter. She got in touch with Erin Leue, the Special Projects Coordinator at the APS Community Clothing Bank and School Supply Barn. Together, the women were able to place a rush order to secure the child a new pair of shoes by the end of the day.
The Clothing Bank has been operating out of an APS building for six years and is run mostly by volunteers with just a handful of permanent employees. It functions for all ages in the district – kindergarten through high school – providing school supplies, hoodies, coats, socks, underwear, shoes, and Good Will clothing vouchers for kids in need. “We have many families struggling right now in the district. Nationally, we’re in the middle of a housing crisis and more than ever before, families are having to pull together resources for rent. That means at the end of the month, there may not be extra money for things like groceries, let alone a new pair of shoes,” said Fitzsimmons.
According to APS enrollment statistics, 67% of the district’s students for the 2022-2023 school year are receiving free lunch. That means more than half the population is living in households with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level, or an estimated $29,940 a year for a family of three. “Having their basic needs met is the foundation of a successful education for our students. That’s why this program is so important,” said Leue. She tells News Radio KKOB, when students are focused on school instead of being warm or comfortable in class, they do better both academically and socially. Teachers, counselors, and coaches know this too, making them an important part of the Clothing Bank’s operations. If an educator or staff member notices that a child at their school needs something, they simply fill out a form online with the student’s ID number and send it off to Leue’s team. She receives the student’s needed items along with their age and gender, then she packs a bag full of the requests.
On delivery day, the team takes the items to the staff member who requested them so they can discretely get the package to the student in need. “The reaction we get from families is gratitude for helping out, and we get kids who just get to be kids. That’s what we want. We want them to have what they need so they can thrive, so they can reach higher levels, and learn the way we want them to,” said Fitzsimmons.
The program offers autonomy for students by allowing them to shop with their families through the Goodwill voucher program. Kids are allowed to choose three outfits for free three times per year. In addition, partnerships with companies like Big 5 allow students in middle and high school to choose their own shoes instead of having Leue’s team pick them out from the warehouse donations. “It’s also about equity, getting to have a shopping experience with mom or dad, that’s something we want our students to have, especially as they get older. It gives them autonomy to figure out what their style is, and it helps them participate on the playground and in sports,” said Leue.
As of December 1, 2022, the Clothing Bank had helped a total of 2,200 students since the start of the school year. That includes the dolling out of 1,800 pairs of underwear, 1,920 bundles of socks (six pairs each), 1,600 hoodies, 822 coats, and more than 1,800 Goodwill clothing vouchers. Donations come from local clothing drives, like KOAT TV’s Koats for Kids, metro area businesses, and individual community members. This winter, Leue says they are still in need of coats and hoodies in men’s and women’s sizes as well as larger children’s sizes like 14 and 16. To learn more about volunteering with the program or to donate to the cause, click here.