By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Maybe it’s a kindergartner trudging to school in the snow in only a T-shirt, no winter boots and holes in his socks.
Maybe it’s a 9-year-old at a new school, embarrassed of her threadbare and too-thin clothing.
Or maybe it’s a high school junior, studying for exams, trying to make sparse supplies stretch to the end of the school year.
Volunteers at the Ken-Ton Closet want to help them all.
Jill O’Malley of Kenmore, the director of the Ken-Ton Closet, a community initiative to collect donated clothing and other items and distribute them to children of the school district, said it all started as she made rounds of the schools for the Ken-Ton Parent Association.
“When I started going around to the schools to introduce our group, just sitting and listening to the PTA meetings, I really got a feel that there was a huge diversity of need in the district,” said O’Malley, who is also the director of the KTPA. “The thing that got me started ... I was at a PTA meeting. Lindbergh (Elementary School) collects jackets. They do a wonderful job of it.
“I asked, ‘Where do the jackets go if they don’t need them?’ Well, they donate them to Buffalo. I said, ‘Don’t we have kids here who need them?’ “
Once the idea for the project was started, it grew quickly. On Jan. 15, the plan was formally submitted to the Town of Tonawanda; on Jan. 24, volunteers received permission to proceed with it. O’Malley will also make presentations at the Village of Kenmore meeting Tuesday and the Town of Tonawanda board meeting Feb. 25.
“Everyone has been incredibly receptive. I can’t tell you the outpouring of support,” she said. “It’s nice because it’s a lot of different entities coming together to make this project happen. Because our district is so diverse, people don’t even think about this happening in our district. It makes my heart bleed. Why are we not taking care of our own?”
The project is based out of the Sheridan-Parkside Building in the Town of Tonawanda. Sheila Csicseri, program director for the Sheridan Youth Center, said she received a telephone call from O’Malley, who was looking for space for the donations.
The building’s second floor had been refurbished for the Health Sciences Charter School, which relocated last year. And Csiceri knew someone who was looking for an Eagle Scout project.
“It was kind of one of those things that all fell together,” she said. “I had the space ... Jill had a need and a passion. It should be a great resource to the entire community, not just this area but throughout the entire school system.”
Micah Greidanus, a junior at Kenmore West High School, will be repainting the room and helping to put in new shelving and cupboards for the site as part of his project to earn the highest advancement rank in Scouting.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he said of the KTC project. “If someone has an immediate need, they can get a new toothbrush, some clothes ... I take those things for granted. I like seeing the community come together.”
Until the facility at the Sheridan-Parkside Building is fully up and running, Ken-Ton Closet volunteers have been fulfilling requests for clothing items as they come in via school counselors, social workers or nurses. The items are dropped off at the schools and handled through those personnel, O’Malley said.
“If people feel like they need something, they should contact their school nurses or counselors,” she said. “If we have it, we’ll try to get it to them.”
Right now, O’Malley said, the greatest need is, by far, for winter jackets, hats and gloves and backpacks.
“Those things are the most expensive,” she said. “Even if you go to Walmart, it’s at least $20. If you have a family of five, that’s a lot. It adds up.”
However, the project will also accept off-season clothing for distribution in the season when it’s needed, as well as school supplies, toiletries and anything a child might need, O’Malley said. (It cannot, however, accept cash donations or gift cards at this time.)
Csiceri said that the children who are often in need may have been relocated, or found themselves living with a different relative without the resources to provide for all their needs. She also works with the town toy drive in December and sees some profoundly un-childlike Christmas lists.
“When the kids write down the stuff that they need, they talk about socks, about underwear, about sheets for their bed,” she said. “When I look at those kinds of lists coming up (for Christmas) ... I wonder how much more throughout the year they need.
“These are things these children are living with right around the corner, and you don’t even know it. There are a lot of families just trying to make ends meet.”
Collection for the project takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Sheridan-Parkside Building, 169 Sheridan-Parkside in the Town of Tonawanda. In addition, Bumblebeez Consignment and Children’s Boutique at 906 Brighton Road will be holding a collection event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 9, focusing on collecting new socks, new underwear, new toiletries and new school supplies. O’Malley is hoping that collection events and sites will eventually take place throughout the community.
Michael Muscarella, principal at Lindbergh Elementary School, volunteered to have a collection bin placed at the school.
“I think it’s a great resource for our community and our kids, not only at Lindbergh, but the entire community,” he said. “We’re going to be able to get supplies and clothing to the children who need them. There are kids who come to our doors everyday with these needs; it’s a link to resources we can get to our building quickly.
“It’s community members driving this, looking to say ‘How can we help?’ We want to be able to provide, especially during the winter months, and i’m sure the needs are going to exist during the summer months as well.”
As the project gets up and running, O’Malley said that volunteers will be needed to pick up and drop off donations, and to sort, wash and fold clothing. Right now, she just wants the word to spread.
“We know that the families who need it the most aren’t going to be online, aren’t going to see our webpage,” she said. “We just need to get the word out that it exists.
“We have to start building the community from the bottom up and remove a lot of the distractions to learning. How can you concentrate on your work when you’re cold, tired and hungry?”
For more information, email email@example.com, visit www.ktpa.org/Ken-Ton_Closet.html or search for Ken-Ton Closet on Facebook.TO HELP • Donations can be made 3 to 5 p.m. at the Sheridan-Parkside Building, 169 Sheridan-Parkside, Town of Tonawanda. Enter at the front of the building and check in at the table. • For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.ktpa.org/Ken-Ton_Closet.html or search for Ken-Ton Closet on Facebook. IF YOU GO • WHAT: Collection event for the Ken-Ton Closet • WHEN: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 9 • WHERE: Bumblebeez Consignment and Children's Boutique, 906 Brighton Road, Town of Tonawanda