A new clothes closet made up of community donations will open this month at the Simon Middle School campus, just in time for the first day of school.
Hays CISD School Board Trustee Esperanza Orosco led the charge for the new program. She was a teacher with the district when she first saw families of her students struggling to clothe their children for the school day, she said.
In her 11 years as a bilingual teacher, Orosco taught at Camino Real Elementary, Hemphill Elementary and Science Hall Elementary, some of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged schools in the district, she said. Orosco quickly recognized a need for donated, school-appropriate clothing for her students.
“Sometimes there were kids who came with shoes that didn’t fit, that hurt them. Sometimes they’d come without appropriate clothing for the weather. They’d have sandals on when it was freezing outside and no jacket or coat,” Orosco said.
Orosco, coming from a large family with lots of nephews and nieces, began offering their outgrown clothing in her classroom after school to the parents of her students who needed them. It was not long until word spread, she said, and she had parents from other classes and grades coming to her for help.
With the support of the Camino Real principal at the time, Orosco opened a clothing closet for the whole school in a spare room. Once again, people heard about the program by word of mouth and began to come from other schools, sometimes as far as Kyle Elementary across town.
“We know our families face economic challenges, and it’s not just one population that needs help. A lot of us can be in that situation real quick,” Orosco said. “If someone gets hurt and has high medical bills, you never know what can happen. We don’t serve only one population, it’s throughout our district.”
As successful as the clothing closet was, Camino Real ran out of space in the school the following year, and the program had to end. Orosco later stopped teaching when she became a mother and was elected to the Hays CISD Board of Trustees in 2016. She never stopped wanting to try to open a clothes closet on a district-wide level, she said.
“I have been wanting to do a clothes closet for a long time, and finally garnered the support. Our new superintendent is amazing, and he said ‘This is a great idea, I can’t believe it hasn’t been done,” Orosco said.
The clothes closet program will be housed in a two-room portable on the Simon Middle School campus for both sorting and donation pick-up. Orosco will lead a team of volunteers to run the program.
After the initial distributions this month, nurses, counselors and family advocates with the district can identify students who may need help with clothing, send them home with information about the program and parents can choose to receive assistance if they wish. If a guardian cannot get to Simon Middle School, volunteers can package the clothes for the child and send it home with him/her.
The clothes closet is still accepting donations of gently used clothing and shoes, as well as brand-new socks and underwear, starting at children’s size three to 3XL. Orosco also said they are looking for reusable grocery tote bags.
They ask that donations be within dress code and free from large logos. Clothing donations that do not meet those stipulations will be donated to the Kyle Library Thrift Shop, Orosco said.
“I hope we can help our children and take away barriers like food insecurity and clothing and safety so they have the opportunity to succeed and meet their goals,” she said. “With these clothes, that’s one less basic need to worry about and have taken care of.”
Orosco said that once the clothes closet takes off, she hopes to open a district-wide food pantry next door, though that is still a ways off.
“Asking for help should not be shameful,” she said. “We’re all in this together. We need to lift our families up.”