Mitchell Caring Closet lends a hand to those in need
Volunteer group Caring Closet of Mitchell issues clothing, other essentials to Mitchell students
As the coordinator of the Caring Closet of Mitchell, Jodi Reiners mostly works behind the scenes, sorting and organizing donations and generally taking the head leadership role in the group.
But she has, on occasion, seen the emotional impact the program can have on those who rely on it.
“At first they’re a little shy because they feel a little self-conscious about it,” Reiners said in a recent interview with the Mitchell Republic. “But it is very heartwarming. You can see how much they appreciate it.”
The students to whom she refers are patrons of the Caring Closet of Mitchell, a program that distributes items such as clothing, hygiene and household products to students who may be in need of assistance in their school or home life. A student who may have an upcoming job interview can come and pick up a used sports coat, or another may be able to acquire some extra warm winter clothing when the South Dakota cold comes rushing in. A comfortable pair of shoes can be had right off the shelf.
The volunteer-run program was first established at Mitchell High School in recent years before it was taken over by Reiners, who thought it was a great idea and wanted to be involved.
“I had heard about it almost a year ago, so I reached out to them to get some more information. In talking with them they said they were going to expand into another room when they could, and I said I’d love to help out,” Reiners said.
That led to Reiners eventually taking the reins on for the bulk of the organization of the group.
Products for distribution are acquired mostly through donations and stored at Mitchell High School. The initial expansion plans of moving into a second room have since given way to a third storage room and a program staffed by a vanguard of volunteers that serves all students in the district from kindergarten through grade 12.
Donated items can be dropped off at the Mitchell High School main office. Those items are then sorted, cleaned if necessary and stockpiled in the storage rooms, where students have access to them by appointment. High school and Second Chance High students can arrange a visit through a teacher or staff member with whom they feel comfortable and choose items from the shelf on their own, while teachers at the middle and elementary schools can fill out specific request forms for younger students. Volunteers then gather the items they have and deliver to them to the students, usually within a day, Reiners said.
Reiners said it’s a process that would not be possible without the myriad sources of support the program gets throughout the community, beginning with the volunteers who keep the inventory organized, appealing and ready for distribution.
“Me and other volunteers will go once a weekend and meet at the school and process the clothing. If it needs to be washed, I take it home and wash it. If it’s stained we try to see if we can fix it. If it’s adult clothing that isn’t athletic wear, I have some high schoolers who go through it and make sure that it is something that other high schoolers would wear,” Reiners said. “I don’t have a ton of space, and I want to make sure i’m keeping items that students will actually want.”
She said she has about 10 to 15 volunteers who regularly take part in the program, and she works through a special Facebook group to announce particular items of which the Caring Closet is in need. It has been an effective method of getting the word out, and people have responded, often seeking out Reiners herself when they have a box of clothing to contribute.
“I have people probably every other day dropping stuff off at my house. The high school office is the primary (drop off) location, but people will say they have six garbage bags of stuff and they don’t want the office to get overcrowded, especially with COVID-19,” Reiners said.
Products are often purchased via thrift or new with donated funds when needed, as well. Reiners said she has received donations from various businesses and organizations, including the Mitchell Area Charitable Foundation, and a recent donation of $1,000 came in from a donor who felt the project was a good recipient for a Christmas-time donation. That specific donation was divided up among eight families, Reiners said.
Joe Childs, principal at Mitchell High School, said the response from students, faculty and community has been wonderful.
“It’s been community-wide. Students have made donations. There are some who have donated caps and gowns for graduation, for example. That’s something you might not think about, but that’s a great deal for them,” Childs said. “There is a holiday spirit, and people realize how fortunate they are, and this is an avenue to (give back).”
The response from those who utilize the closet is heartwarming, she said. They often come in and are excited for the most basic of products that many others may take for granted.
“It was fun seeing their excitement. And it was humbling seeing some of the things they really wanted, like a package of underwear, socks and things that other kids take for granted,” Reiners said.
Those simple reactions, the expansion into three rooms at Mitchell High School and the generosity of local donors tell a story of the need for projects like the Caring Closet of Mitchell, Reiners said. And it’s a process she and the volunteers plan to keep up for as long as they can.
For Reiners herself, she feels that the project is an excellent way to give back to the community. She is often drawn to the memory of her father, Chuck Muth, who died at the age of 44. That was 25 years ago, and his advice of not worrying if you will be remembered when you are gone, but how you will be remembered, still resonates with her. Her mom, Rosanne Muth, and daughter, Ashley Reiners, are her most dedicated volunteers and help keep Chuck’s legacy strong with their work.
The teachers and volunteers who had had a hand in keeping the project going are also invaluable to the success of the program, she said.
“I wanted to make sure that I, too, leave such a wonderful legacy,” Reiners said.
That legacy will live on with continued support from the Mitchell community, she said. The group accepts financial donations, new and clean gently used items, filled County Fair United Savings Cards or County Fair United Savings Stamps or volunteers willing to put in a few hours for a good cause.
Specific items welcomed include the following. Donors are encouraged to contact the Caring Closet of Mitchell to learn what items the group is currently in need of most.
Clothing, coats, jackets, winter wear in youth sizes 4 through adult
Adult and youth underwear and socks
Shoes, youth size 11 through adult (sneaker, tennis or athletic only)
Backpacks (drawstring of regular)
TI-30 XXIS calculators
Hangers (plastic or wire)
Household products (new and unopened)
Hygiene products (new and unopened)
School supplies (new only)
More information on the Caring Closet of Mitchell Facebook page, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 605-770-1806.