When Celina Bigio noticed a lot of teens wearing clothes that were too small or inadequate for an Ohio winter, she decided to do something about it.
The Oberlin High School Assistant Principal has launched a clothing pantry in her building and is collecting gently-used shirts and pants, winter coats, backpacks, hangers and laundry supplies.
The school system’s mission isn’t just education, said Bigio — it’s caring for the whole child.
When students come to school, they need to be prepared mentally and emotionally to learn, she said. “If they’re hungry, if they’re cold, if they’re worried about what they’re going home to, they’re not going to be ready.”
So far, the pantry shelves are stacked with a few pairs of jeans, sweatshirts, dresses and a couple of coats.
There is plenty of room — and plenty of need — for more, Bigio said.
Teens are already starting to use the pantry. One young lady last week took a new pair of pants because hers were ripped and soiled.
“She said it’s been so long since she’s had a nice pair of pants,” said Bigio. “I said, ‘Well, honey, they’re yours.'”
Some donations are also coming in. Kendal at Oberlin delivered a coat and a slew of hangers, which Bigio said were needed.
They’ll help turn the clothing closet into something that feels more like a retailer.
“We hopefully are going to make it in a way that they feel like they’re going to a store and shopping, and not just getting a handout,” Bigio said.
The clothing pantry started when it became clear there is a growing need among an increasing number of students, she said. The first sign was kids asking for a snack as soon as they arrived in the morning.
That’s why Oberlin High School has also started a food pantry with a grant from the Oberlin Rotary Club.
Volunteers are preparing a designated space for food bags during Thanksgiving break, said Bigio.
The school has already started handing out bags with vegetables, easy meals, bread, dried meat, cereal, soup and granola bars provided by Oberlin Community Services.
They’re moving quickly. About 20 kids are using the new service.
“The need is definitely there,” said Bigio.
“Sometimes some of the food is gone before they even take it home, because they’re hungry,” she said.
Many students are going home each afternoon to empty houses, according to Bigio. She said parents are working and doing the best they can to support their families, but that doesn’t always leave time to prepare meals.
“I feel like it’s a trend now. You have the working poor who are working and doing the best they can but there’s just never enough,” she said.
Kids can eat a lot and food, and the price of groceries has to contend with other bills such as utilities or medical costs, said Bigio.