A Local Charity Helps Keep Kids in School by Providing the Basics.
Stacks of neatly folded jeans line the shelves in a room at Lowell High School. Blouses, polo shirts, hoodies and other items are organized, sized and hanging from racks. Shoes, sneakers and boots are lined up in rows, waiting to be worn.
The room may look like a hip consignment boutique, but it’s Catie’s Closet, a nonprofit that offers students who are homeless or facing financial difficulties free clothing and other necessities — including shampoo, soap, shaving supplies, and even bus passes — that they cannot afford to buy. For many students, having the basics — a winter coat, clean socks and underwear, or a bottle of body wash — is what they need to keep coming to school.
“Catie’s Closet is a lifeline for some kids,” says Lyndsey Sousa, a social worker at the LeBlanc Therapeutic Day School in Lowell, one of 14 public schools in Lowell and Hudson, N.H., that provides space for a Catie’s Closet. “Some students have no access to things like hygiene products that most people take for granted.”
The organization was founded by Anne-Marie Bisson to honor her daughter, Catie, who died of a rare connective tissue disease in 2010. A 2008 graduate of Lowell High School who was studying English at Bridgewater State University, Catie firmly believed in the power of education to transform people’s lives, Bisson says.
In the aftermath of her daughter’s death, Bisson came up with the idea for an organization to help local high school students who couldn’t afford necessities (the organization has since expanded to help kids in the lower grades). Months before, she had read a newspaper article about the plight of local homeless teenagers that gripped her heart. Details of the teens’ struggles stuck with her, and as Bisson was driving home from work one night — she is vice president of financial education at Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union — the idea of “Catie’s Closet” was born. She has been on a mission ever since.
“It all starts with education,” Bisson says. “If kids feel like they fit in, they will have confidence and want to go to school. If their attendance goes up, their grades go up.”
Social workers or teachers who know students in need usually refer them to Catie’s Closet for help. For kids who are homeless or
live in poverty, the racks of donated clothing may provide a rare chance to score trendy teen labels such as Nike, American Eagle or Abercrombie & Fitch.
“For some kids, this is an opportunity they would never have,” Sousa says. “For teenagers, fitting in is so vital. A trip to Catie’s Closet brings them joy and excitement.”
Catie’s Closet accepts donations of new or gently used clothing in current styles in girls’ and boys’ sizes 4 to 20, teen girls’ sizes 3 to 15, and teen boys’ sizes extra small
to extra large. Cash donations help pay for bus passes, new underwear, socks or special requests that come in through school
Groups and individuals have sponsored clothing and toiletry drives to help replenish supplies. Earlier this year, for instance, the Young Professionals of Greater Lowell collected 200 pairs of flip-flops just in time for summer. Volunteers have spent weekends at schools renovating, painting and retrofitting Catie’s Closet sites.
The organization has been awarded several grants, and now runs an annual fundraiser in March to raise money to continue its work.
Bisson says the outpouring of community support and the organization’s rapid expansion have been overwhelming at times. But with the need so great, she sees continued growth ahead. Her goal is to have a Catie’s Closet in all of Lowell’s public schools.
“It’s what Catie would have wanted,” she says. “I believe her purpose was Catie’s Closet.”
Former information including donation drop-off locations, visit CatiesCloset.org.