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Necessities for students provided in high school

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Top, Clothing items fill the Comet Giving Closet at HCHS. Above, Members of the JROTC program at HCHS help out with the Sinai Elementary Giving Closet, patterned after the one at the high school.
SoVaNow.com / December 02, 2019

High school students in need of school supplies, clothes, food and other essentials have a place to turn at HCHS — the Comet Giving Closet, launched by teachers and others who decided to do something to help disadvantaged students at the school.

The Comet Giving Closet is located at the Culinary Arts department, inside instructor Victoria Worley’s office. Worley gave up her space this summer after she and others came up with the idea of a pantry where students could go for the items they needed — from winter clothing to wire-bound notebooks — to be successful at school.

With the help of outside donors and volunteers, the Comet Giving Closet has met a real need for basic necessities among members of the student body.

It has also relieved the burden on teachers who frequently have donated items on their own to help underprivileged students.

“I thought about how many teachers use their money and personal items to make sure kids get what they need,” said Worley.

Several members of the staff at HCHS came together to establish the Comet Giving Closet. “I had a child in need of clothes,” said Worley, describing how she and the school nurse stepped in to help one student. Another HCHS teacher, Tammy Moore contacted the Good Samaritan clothing and food pantry to help out one of her students who risked being sent home because of attire that was not in accordance with the school’s dress code policy. Polly Fraser, a Good Samaritan volunteer, was able to provide new clothing for the teacher to pick up during her lunch break.

After being approached by Moore, Fraser suggested that HCHS could become a satellite location for the Good Samaritan.

“I brought up the idea of a clothing closet to Victoria Worley” after being approached by Moore, said Fraser. There is an abundance of clothes at the Good Samaritan and finding another outlet for those who need free clothing was an organizational goal.

Over the summer, teachers turned Worley’s office in the Culinary Arts department into the giving closet. The space was remodeled with clothing racks donated by Belk. Alexia’s Closet provided a bookcase, rug, bench, mirror, and artwork as furnishings.

However, some students’ needs go beyond clothes. With the help of teachers at HCHS, along with members of the FCCLA (Family Career and Community Leaders of America) and JROTC, and with seed money from Scotty Felton, a realtor with Long & Foster, the Comet Giving Closet began to take shape — offering clothing, food, school supplies, hygiene items and more.

“I saw on Facebook what Victoria Worley wanted to do and I loved the idea,” said Felton.

Felton agreed to match up to $500 in donations in hopes of getting the ball rolling, giving the venture $1,000 to work with at the outset. Felton said she decided to get involved because of the number of children in the county who are brought up under challenging circumstances — about 18 percent of county residents live in poverty conditions, according to the Census Bureau. It is not in students’ control that they may be born into poverty unplanned, unwanted and uncared for from day one, Felton said.

“It helps meet the needs of those who don’t have some of the basic items we all have and assume everyone has,” said Felton of the Comet Giving Closet. The money donated by Long & Foster comes out of the sales generated by local agents at the South Boston Long & Foster office, not from a corporate pot. In doing so, company members are donating money that otherwise would go into their pockets.

“I will do everything I can to make this world a better place and it starts right here in Halifax County, Virginia,” said Felton, describing the donations as an investment in the community.

After the summertime organizing and fund raising work, the giving closet “was up and running before the students came back to school,” said Worley. What she didn’t know at the time is whether it would be successful or used at all.

Within the first few weeks, Worley started filling pages of a notebook with the items that students received from the pantry.

”I don’t write down names or require students to tell me why they need items,” said Worley. She only keeps track of the items taken and the biggest needs.

At the moment, demand is greatest for book bags, new underwear, and feminine hygiene products. The closet has been a huge help to many students, Worley said. Some students come in to pick out just one item and some students receive entire wardrobes of clothes.

There are a few students who receive occasional snacks and food to eat when they’re not at school, such as during holiday breaks, which caused concern that the storehouse of foodstuffs could run out. Due to recent large donations of non-perishable foods for the holidays, however, the gap has been filled.

“We are so fortunate for that,” said Worley.

The list of contributors has grown to a long one, with many businesses and individuals helping out. This winter, the closet received a donation of winter coats from Foster Fuels. Springfield Distillery donated food items and the Ash Avenue Baptist Church Women’s Group and H.Y.P.E (Halifax Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs) have made generous monetary contributions this holiday season. Plus, the Good Samaritan has been keeping the closet stocked with clothes.

In fact, due to the level of generosity, items have been re-gifted to the middle school to start a giving closet there as well.

The initiative has spread further to the county’s elementary schools. First Sgt. Gregory Scott, JROTC instructor, has been helping Sinai Elementary establish a giving closet. The overall mission of JROTC is to create better citizens through outreach work, volunteerism and citizenship

“We adopted Sinai for our mentorship program this fall,” said Scott. JROTC’s 84 cadets, male and female, also help students at Sinai Elementary with mentoring, tutoring, and practicing for the SOLs.

The cadets collected clothes and hygiene products, which they recently donated to the Sinai Giving Closet, along with a donation by Scotty Felton.

Worley would like to see a giving closet at every school and has reached out to several of the elementaries. Some schools have been stocked with clothes and hygiene items. Clays Mill and Cluster Springs elementaries each have a backpack program that sends food home with students in need.

Donations to the giving closets can be dropped off at the main office of Halifax County High School, Halifax County Middle School and Sinai Elementary.

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