By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The photos could break your heart.
Brightly colored bins, now empty, labeled “crayons” and “markers” and “colored pencils.” Barren shelves. Piles of clothing strewn across the floor every which way.
Barely one week before the start of school, the Ken-Ton Closet — an organization dedicated to providing clothing, toiletries and school supplies to children in need in the Ken-Ton community — is coping with a break-in at its site at the Sheridan-Parkside Community Center that resulted in the loss of much of its school-supply collection and many of the toiletries.
Jill O’Malley of Kenmore, the director of the Closet, said that someone broke into the room at some point between Thursday and Tuesday, a catastrophe discovered when volunteers arriving Tuesday thought there had been an open house and called her about the disarray and dearth of needed school supplies.
There had been no recent open house. O’Malley went to survey the scene and found a heart-breaking mess, with many supplies gone and donated clothing pulled off racks and boxes dumped on the floor.
“I don’t know what they were looking for. I’m sure they also took clothing, but we don’t really track that,” she said. “It kills me. Just come. You can get it for free.”
Only about 10 of the original 50 brand-new backpacks remain. The only other school supplies salvaged include a donation that was safely at O’Malley’s house, which will help the group assist some students. However, with district schools opening Sept. 5, there are likely to be more requests on the way.
"I have enough supplies on hand to fulfill some requests,” O’Malley said, “but I don’t know what will come in in the next week or so.”
While the school supplies are mostly inexpensive items such as crayons and pencils, they may be more difficult to replace now that the beginning of school is imminent and store shelves are borderline wiped out of stock.
And that’s where the community comes in.
The Closet is in need of supplies including crayons, markers (both thin and thick), highlighters, index cards, pens, pencils, erasers, composition books, glue (bottles and sticks), pencil boxes, children’s scissors, colored pencils and three-subject notebooks.
Donations will be accepted at Bumblebeez Consignment and Children’s Boutique, 906 Brighton Road, until Tuesday, and a special collection will take place from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Kenmore Farmer’s Market at Delaware Avenue and Delaware Road.
It would be best to make donations at those sites, O’Malley said, although the Closet can also be reached through Facebook or by calling 218-9589. Donors are asked not to leave supplies at the unattended public collection sites for the Closet.
In addition, there will be a clean-up event between 1 and 3 p.m. Friday at the Closet to refold, sort, size and generally put things back in order.
It’s also hoped that local residents (and store employees, as the new items may have been taken to return to stores for cash) will keep their eyes open for those who might be seen with large quantities of school supplies or toiletries (including hundreds of pencils or dozens of tubes of toothpaste) for no apparent reason.
While the incident is disappointing, O’Malley said she wants to be positive and move forward.
“We’ll get back what we lost. People are already stepping up,” she said. “We’ve had people just keep saying over and over, ‘We’re going to go shopping.’ Everyone wants to do their part, and that’s phenomenal. That’s why I want to keep it positive.”
In fact, she said, there may be a silver lining. Most of the clothing and supply requests the Closet receives still come through the school district. This could help get out the word that the Ken-Ton Closet exists and is willing to help anyone in the community who needs it, O’Malley said.
“The No. 1 most important thing that could come out of this is that people will know this resource is available. And that’s good,” she said. “There are going to be kids with school supplies who don’t have them because of this. We just have to remember that, and move forward.”
Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.