By Linda Dillman
A middle school students’ brainstorming session in Canal Winchester led to an idea that is now helping students in need.
The endeavor—a small, free clothes store, CW Threads, housed in a converted storage room at Canal Winchester Middle School—is an example of running an outreach program and learning about altruism.
Canal Winchester Middle School teacher Kelly Best said the idea for a free store came up during a building leadership meeting after discussing student needs.
“We were also starting to create morning clubs with our sixth graders and decided one of the clubs could focus on the creation of the free store,” said Best, who has taught sixth graders at Canal Winchester for 16 years. “My students worked (on creating the store) for a half hour in the mornings for three days a week for four weeks. Other students wanted to jump in, too, so often times when students completed their work in my class, they’d start sorting or hanging clothing for the store as well.”
Best said the free store idea expanded well beyond the initial club into a “gigantic” group effort and a big first step was converting a cluttered storage room in to an appealing space.
“We wanted to create a space that would make students feel welcome and happy to shop there,” said Best. “Students in the club took charge of cleaning, organizing, and repurposing some items. Then we made a list of items we hoped to include in the store. We wanted to have clothing racks, shelving, a dressing room, and an area to keep hygiene items as well.”
Community support was both amazing and heartwarming, according to Best. She would periodically post a list of needed items on a Canal Winchester community Facebook page, and each time requests were met almost immediately.
“We received donations of clothing racks, hangers, and clothing from various Lularoe sales representatives,” said Best. “Parents and people I didn’t even know donated clothing racks as well. Someone ordered one on Amazon Prime and shipped it right to our school. We created the dressing room with a standing mirror, an antique chair that two of the girls in the club re-upholstered completely on their own, shower curtains, and a rug – all donated from the community.”
Best said it didn’t take long for donations to start rolling in.
Organizers received a large spirit wear donation from the CW Alumni Association, clothing from a store in Canal Winchester and cash donations to help purchase hygiene items. Their next big task was sorting and categorizing clothes.
“I had so many people reaching out to donate clothing,” said Best. “Students spent hours sorting, folding, and hanging clothing. Any clothing we could not use, we donated to Goodwill, so everything went to a good cause. The store is really student-driven. Now that it’s established, I pop my head in the door every now and then just to make sure everything is okay, but other than that, the students have taken charge of keeping it running.”
Best said students took pride in transforming the space and continue to work hard in keeping it organized. She never has to look far for help as students come to her and ask to work in the store.
Sixth grader Samantha Rowley said she enjoys working in the store because she likes helping other students and is happy to provide an option for students who often wear the same clothes to school on a regularly.
Sixth grader CJ Gidley said he likes working with clothes after he worked with his mother. He added he “likes to organize things.”
Student Melia Williams said, “Kids are a lot happier to have an option to find new clothes to wear to school.”
Sometimes the public is asked to donate specific items, such as when a coach approached Best with a need for an athlete for workout clothing during cold weather training.
“Our store didn’t have anything like that, but I put out a plea on that same community Facebook page, and I was able to provide her with an entire clothes basket full of items in just two days,” said Best.
Any student who needs clothing assistance can shop by asking a teacher, counselor, or administrator to visit the store during the school day at a time when they can shop privately. Sometimes they are referred by fellow students.
Students can also receive clothing assistance during the summer by contacting a school administrator.
“I was able to take a student shopping last week, and her excitement made all of the work involved completely worth it,” said Best. “She was able to get some brand name items that she had never owned before, and she was so grateful and happy. We want our students to become change makers in the world, and the best place to start is within our own environment. Creating this store has shown them the power of everyone chipping in and working together to help others who need it. Teaching students to be empathetic, helpful, and giving to others is a life lesson we cannot teach enough.”