Community donations help keep Lancer Closet stocked for students in need
Closet supplies clothes, personal care items
BELOIT, Wis. — Inside McNeel Intermediate School is a room filled floor to ceiling with plastic tubs, shelves, hangers and cabinets; it’s known as the Lancer Closet.
Teachers and community members have donated all kinds of clothes, shoes, toiletries and school supplies for students to be able to come to the closet and pick something out when they’re in need.
“It’s something that can help kids feel good about their day. It’s one less thing they have to worry and stress about,” Jennifer Nitz, school social worker, said.
She’s seen the closet grow from filling just one cabinet to overflowing into other rooms, and she knows how important it is for students to have access to the abundance of items.
“Sometimes when kids have things going on at home or unmet needs, that’s where you see the behavior spike,” Nitz said. “But if we can look at these basic needs and help meet those, a lot of times you’ll see a decrease in those behaviors, better engagement at school and overall positive attitude.”
As school resource officer, Officer Blaine Oxenreider has experienced firsthand how much some students struggle.
“It means a lot to me because I can actually, I see these kids every day now instead of just once in a while when I was working the streets, so you see what these kids live with and what they have to endure,” he said. “They bring a lot to school and you just feel the need to give back to them.”
Oxenreider helped donate toothpaste and toothbrushes through a friend of his who works at a dental office.
“I know there’s other places in the community where people can get items like this, but it’s just nice to have, since the school is the nexus for a lot of things, it’s nice to have it right here and we can control it and see the kids. We know which kids really, really need this stuff,” he said.
The closet has items for girls and boys from children’s size 7-8 up to adult 2XL. There are new and gently uses shirts, shoes, pants, sweatshirts, winter coats, winter boats, hats, gloves and some dressier items for school dances and band or choir concerts.
“We would never want a kid not to come to a special event just because they didn’t have something to wear to it,” Nitz said.
In addition to clothes, the closet also supplies students with personal hygiene items like deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste and body spray, as well as school supplies and backpacks.
“Together, this is what the result is,” Oxenreider said while looking around at the room. “You have so much stuff when people come together to do good things.”
A quote on the wall of the room stands almost as a mission statement for the Lancer Closet. It’s a Hellen Keller quote that says, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” It was found hidden behind some tall cabinets when Oxenreider and Nitz first started cleaning out the room to start the closet.
“I just kind of looked and I saw the mural, and I thought it would be very fitting for what we had,” Oxenreider said. “So we just kind of moved stuff around so it showed.”
Even though the closet is inside McNeel Intermediate School, Nitz said all students in the district can use any of the items.
“A lot of times those other student services staff will call me and say, ‘Hey, I need this, do you have it? Can I come pick it up?’ and they come and pick things up or I take things to them for their students too,” she said.
Nitz said her next goal is to create a mobile food pantry at the school.
“I think the vision is that we would have another space here in another room at McNeel where we could house the food and then we would look at maybe partnering with one of the local food pantries to give families access to food needs here,” she said.
Anyone interested in donating clothes, toiletries or school supplies can drop the items off at McNeel Intermediate School. People interested in donating food should contact Nitz at 608-361-3944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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