MSD Caring Closet, sister programs continue to help Mitchell students
Usage up during difficult economic times
MITCHELL — It may have gone through a name change since its founding years ago, but the MSD Caring Closet, formerly known as the Caring Closet of Mitchell, continues to help Mitchell School District students get a leg up when it comes to important day-to-day items.
And the need now is as great as ever.
“The demand is up, as you can imagine with the state of the economy,” Jodi Reiners, coordinator for the MDS Caring Closet, told the Mitchell Republic recently.
The MSD Caring Closet program, which is based at Mitchell High School, 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 winter strikes.
The program hosts several pop-up events a year, at which students can sign up and visit the inventory for needed products. The three remaining pop-up events for the 2022-23 school year are set for March 18, April 8 and May 13, but statistics from the program indicate it has already been a busy year.
At the end of January, the MSD Caring Closet had recorded 516 incidents of helping students directly, just slightly behind the full school-year pace of 531 incidents for the 2020-21 school year. Usage was down for the 2021-22 school year, with 410 incidents recorded, but with inflation and increased prices seen on store shelves today, already-tight household budgets have been tightened even further.
The program sees an average of about 35 to 45 students on its pop-up Saturdays.
That affects both families who may need help with everyday items like simple clothing, but it also affects the program budget. The program often spends its own money to purchase high-demand items that are hard to keep stocked through donations, and that spending is up this year, Reiners said.
But everyone from volunteers to donors are helping make it work.
“I think the community has been amazing with monetary and item donations. And the parents and students are so grateful. It’s an awesome experience as a volunteer,” Reiners said. “I have a good core of dedicated volunteers who help out whenever they can. That is very much appreciated, because it takes a lot more than just me to get that all to work.”
The MSD Caring Closet is also operating an Adopt-A-Senior program for high school seniors this year. This particular program is focused on high school seniors who might not otherwise have the funds to purchase graduation attire for themselves.
“Seniors can sign up to be adopted and we’ll help cover the cap, gown and tassel, and they can also request a yearbook,” Reiners said.
Students who are unable to afford such items can become discouraged and not take part in their own graduation ceremonies, a once-in-a-lifetime event that Reiners said all students should have a chance to enjoy. About 30 students have signed up and received approval from the school administration for the assistance so far.
“It’s said that that has prevented students in the past from going through the ceremony because they don’t want to add one more end-of-the-year cost to their parents,” Reiners said.
The group is also accepting gently-used Mitchell High School graduation caps and gowns.
MHS Food Pantry
Another program for students that Reiners supervises is the MHS Food Pantry program.
This program shares its DNA with the longrunning Mitchell Weekend Snack Pack Program, which puts easy-to-prepare snacks into the hands of children for the weekends when their parents are working or there isn’t food in the house. The MHS Food Pantry performs a similar role but for high school students who don’t qualify for the Snack Pack program.
“That’s another huge gap in the needs of the community,” Reiners said.
The program is run out of Mitchell High School but Reiners helps gather needed items and helps with operational details. She has also begun producing videos on simple cooking skills, such as browning ground beef, a skill that some students expressed they did not know how to do.
“We heard about how a lot of kids don’t know how to take the next step. One of the things I heard is that a lot of kids didn’t know how to brown ground beef,” Reiners said. “So that was our first video. Then we took another step and we made tater tot casserole.”
Donations of food items are used to assemble packs for recipes, such as that tater tot casserole, that kids can pick up and make over the weekend.
Reiners said that, like the MSD Caring Closet program when it first started, it took some time for students to become comfortable with the concept, but the food pantry project is beginning to gain momentum during the 2022-23 school year.
“Numbers are starting to pick up. We’ve had 222 instances of students coming in as of the end of January and it’s averaging about 20 kids per week,” Reiners said.
All three of the programs are seeking donations and volunteers. Those interested can find more information on the MSD Caring Closet Facebook page, and Reiners said she would do her best to answer any questions for those who may want to take advantage of the services. Additional information on the MSD Caring Closet program specifically can also be found on the Mitchell School District website.
Helping students with basic needs is an important part of helping those students complete their school experience, Reiners said. There are organizers and volunteers associated with each program who want to be of help, and she tries to float between all of them to assist where she can.
Teachers and staff already have a big task in front of them inside the classroom. Reiners said all of them, including herself, want to be able to help with some of their needs outside the classroom.
“I just try to help out where I can without stepping on toes. The teachers and staff are so overwhelmed helping students, I am just doing what I can to help them help their students,” Reiners said.