HAMILTON, Ohio -- In the world of Target commercials and Seventeen listicles, back-to-school season is all about the acquisition of stuff. Trendy new shirts; $80 backpacks; a Rococo-style locker mirror or marble-patterned iPad case.
That's not the world in which most people live. For thousands of families across the Tri-State, the annual retail ritual comes spiked with shame and worry over not being able to afford enough -- or anything -- new for their children as they head back to school.
The Caring Closet, a project that began in founder Cris Crowthers' basement and grew to encompass an army of volunteers, hopes to help alleviate some of that stress by providing new clothes, shoes and coats to children whose families struggle with financial insolvency -- absolutely free.
"We felt that it would enhance their learning process and help with their self-esteem and let them have the things their peers were having," Crowthers said.
The Caring Closet serves over 800 Hamilton City Schools students ranging in age from kindergarten to 12th grade. All are referred to the program by an adult in their school district who notices they could benefit from a helping hand.
"It might be one of our social workers who will identify a child in need," Caring Closet coordinator Tammy Buchersims said. "Sometimes that's really easy because there are roaches crawling out of their shoes; sometimes that's a little more difficult.”
Volunteers collect information about the child's sizes as well as their likes and dislikes, then assemble a small wardrobe from the organization's closet of donated clothing. Each box includes multiple bottoms, tops, brand new underwear and socks, essential toiletries and a coat.
The project is meant to be a gentle help and a reminder that someone cares, and it can make a lasting difference in the lives of recipients.
"We do frequently get thank-you cards, little notes from people who say, ‘This made such a difference our life, we were going through a really rough time,'" Crowthers said.
As schools across the Tri-State start back up for the fall, the City of Hamilton is encouraging employees to donate new or gently used shoes to the Caring Closet. Anyone who wishes to make another type of donation can learn more at the Caring Closet's website.