HERO Closet saves the day


By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
Hamilton Middle School teachers Cole Freshkorn (left) and Jenna Berry (right) help stock the HERO (Helping Every Ranger Out) Closet, which provides snacks, hygiene items, and clothing to students in need.

An in-school resource is helping Hamilton Local Middle Schoolers in need by providing day-to-day necessities.

The HERO Closet is the school’s own ‘rest stop’ where students can pick up and take home items such as snack food, hygiene products, and clothing items. It was founded last year by a pair of teachers – Cole Freshkorn and Jenna Berry – who saw a need and turned their idea into action.

“The closet is a one-stop spot where students have access to essential items that they might have limited access to, or potentially zero access to, at home,” said Freshkorn.

When Berry and Freshkorn started working together, one of the first things they connected with and agreed upon was putting student-well being at the focus of their teaching and everything they did at Hamilton.

“With that of course comes challenges,” said Freshkorn. “We understand that we work in a tight-knit community, and also understand that even if they don’t always show it, many of our students come from varying walks of life and backgrounds. We never fully understand what they are dealing with, and we want to have the ability to help them even after they leave our classroom.”

In its pilot year, the HERO Closet was set up in a classroom cabinet where students had access before and after school, as well as between classes. This year, Berry and Freshkorn are moving the closet into a different classroom with a larger space in order to expand the closet.

“We had students use it almost every single day to take home snacks and other supplies,” Freshkorn said. “It gave us a good sense of what we need to have stocked, and what items the kids might not need as much. Though we started with a donation from the Alumni Association, we saw many members of the community, friends, and family, as well as fellow staff members make contributions to the closet for the kids.”

Berry and Freshkorn said they were amazed at the outpouring from fellow Hamilton Township alumni once they noticed what they were doing in support of students.

“It speaks to the type of community we have here,” said Freshkorn.

Hamilton Schools Superintendent Mark Tyler said, in a former position, he was a middle school health teacher and an endeavor like the closet is near and dear to his heart. He commended Berry and Freshkorn for stepping up and taking the lead on a project that serves the needs of Hamilton students.

The two educators are exploring options for the HERO Closet and discussed setting up an email address that students can go to if they need something, but don’t want to bring attention to themselves. The items would be delivered with anonymity.

As for keeping the closet well stocked, the organizers are hoping the Hamilton community will continue to support the endeavor. Berry said they need basic clothing items such as socks and undergarments for both boys and girls.

According to Berry, shower supplies and deodorant for boys and girls are in demand and, during the previous school year, socks were the first item to fly off the shelves.

“It’s one of the small items that many people don’t think about, but something our students really need,” Berry said. “In September, we will be doing a donation drive called, ‘Suit up September,’ asking for winter coats, jackets, hats and gloves. Many of our students struggle to get adequate gear heading into the wintertime. We wanted to get ahead of that this year and provide students with what they need to stay warm.”

Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash are in short supply. However, the closet is currently well stocked with feminine supplies and oral hygiene products. Donations are accepted at the middle school during school hours, or can be picked up as well by contacting Berry or Freshkorn at jberry@hlsd.org or cfreshkorn@hlsd.org.

“We need community support to help the HERO Closet be successful, so that our students can be successful,” said Berry. “The HERO Closet is not only important to us, but the students count on it for some of their basic needs. The HERO Closet assures us that our students are taken care of both in and out of the classroom.”

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