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Ambassadors aim to keep kids warm

They are running a two-week drive to collect clothes for Caring Closet
by: Barbara Sherman, MAKING A DIFFERENCE — Alberta Rider Elementary’s Ambassadors, some wearing their own coats to promote their clothing drive, gather in the school lobby Tuesday morning to celebrate the progress of the project that benefits the school district’s Caring Closet.

TIGARD - One of the pride and joys of the Tigard-Tualatin School District - as well as one of its best-kept secrets - is the Caring Closet, where volunteers work tirelessly to provide clothing, supplies and even food to needy families in Tigard and Tualatin.

While the Caring Closet plays a crucial role in keeping kids in school, many families still are not aware that it exists.

Families referred by their school counselors to the Caring Closet get to 'shop' in the fall and spring in what resembles a department store to choose clothing items. Kids usually get a book as well.

'With all of the economic ups and downs, now might be a good time to mention that families who are having a tough time and need our services should contact their school counselor for a referral,' said Betty Murrell. 'Things are pretty tough for some of the families in our community - we provided food for the holiday break to almost 50 families in the district - with a total of 175 individuals - which is significantly more than we have done in the past.

'Many of these kids are in the free- or reduced-lunch program, and when there was no school for two weeks, they weren't going to get as much to eat, so we provided boxes of food that could be used over the vacation.'

Kids in the community also are learning about the Caring Closet and how they can help too.

At Alberta Rider Elementary, parent/volunteer Susan Cameron came up with the idea of having the school's Ambassadors collect coats and mittens for the Caring Closet as a community project.

The drive started Jan. 14 and concludes at the end of this week, but already on Tuesday this week, the kids had collected mountains of outerwear and other items too.

The school's current 70 Ambassadors were selected after submitting application forms that included a list of five of their best attributes, said Sam Kirby, who like the other Ambassadors is a fifth-grader. Their teachers had to rate their separate attributes and give each one a score of at least 4.

The downside of the program is that kids can lose their ambassador status by breaking school rules by running in the halls or not turning in homework assignments, for example. The good news is that the kids can get their status back if their teachers see that they are again obeying the rules.

Ambassadors perform 12 tasks throughout the school, such as arriving at 7:55 a.m. to run the school store or greet people coming into the building. They also help in the library or with the kindergartners, and they even monitor car lines after school from a safe distance on the sidewalk.

'We do a job once or twice a week,' said Luke Davis.

The Ambassadors got behind Cameron's plan to get donations for the Caring Closet, with some of them missing recess to make posters and decorate boxes. Others wrote announcements that they then read over the school PA system about the drive.

'I think it's really going good,' said Sam on Tuesday. 'Most of the boxes are full, and people came in this morning with lots of bags of clothes. We did a similar thing when I was at Mary Woodward (Elementary). As far as I can tell, the drive has been going really well.'

Sam added, 'I did front-door duty this morning, and a lot brought in bags of clothing.'

Michael Hanks added, 'A lot of fifth-graders brought in their own clothes.'

In addition to coats and mittens, the donations include scarves plus jeans, which the kids were told the Caring Closet needs more than almost anything.

'I think a lot will come in Thursday and Friday,' Sam said.

After all the items have been collected, Tigard High School students will come to get them.

Other people and groups in the community are also working on donations for the Caring Closet. The Tigard Youth Advisory Council has been running a blanket drive, St. Anthony's Church collected pajamas, and the Bahai' Community of Tualatin donated clothing and school supplies.

Others who have helped include Oregon Community Credit Union, DW Fritz Automation, Hometown Buffet, THS Young Life, the Tigard Tualatin Education Association and some National Honor Society students.

'One example is Kaylin Winden at Tigard who just concluded a 'garage sale,' where she was able to raise money - over $75 - and also donate needed clothing,' Murrell said.

Community members who want to support the Closet by volunteering their time or donating clothing, hygiene products or money can contact Marilyn Hassmann at 503-603-1576.

Online financial contributions to the Caring Closet, which is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization, can be made at www.foundation4smartkids.org/sage.html, although people should be sure to indicate it is for the Caring Closet.