All TTSD schools participate to fill up the Caring Closet's bare cupboards
These kids are getting good at this.
For the first time since Stuff the Bus started in 2009 to collect items for the Tigard-Tualatin School District's Caring Closet, every school in the district participated in the annual event.
The Caring Closet, which provides clothes, toiletries and household items to needy students living in the district, has been putting on Stuff the Bus for five years. Schools collect items ahead of time, and on the designated day, school bus drivers drive around to the participating schools, and students carry the items onto the buses.
Previously, only a handful of schools typically got involved, said Marilyn Hassmann, director of the Caring Closet. "This year we filled two school buses full of bags of items," she said of the April 26 event.
Students spent the morning loading sacks full of thousands of items, including clothing, shoes, apparel, toiletries and household items, onto the buses.
This has become an annual tradition at some of the schools, and with all the schools involved this year, Hassmann said students donated so many items that she had to find new places to store them all.
"We filled the Closet and our annex," she said. "We had to go out and get a storage unit to house the rest of the items."
Hassmann said she couldn't even begin to guess how many items the students were able to collect, but they were all taken to Tigard High School, which is conveniently located next to the Caring Closet, where students sorted and prepared the items for storage.
The drive is a major boost to the organization, which gives underprivileged children a week's worth of clothing plus pajamas, a pair of shoes and household items such as towels, hygiene items and books.
"This will really help us get the school year started next fall," Hassmann said.
Families must be pre-qualified by a principal, teacher or counselor at their school to "shop" at the Caring Closet, and Hassmann said there are more underprivileged students in the district than people realize.
The Closet helps about 1,550 students each school year, Hassmann said. "People don't realize that there are so many kids sleeping on the floor or sharing a bed with a brother or sister. Or they are a family of five that can't afford more than two bathroom towels for the entire family."
Every year, Hassmann is overwhelmed by the generosity of district students.
"It just keeps getting better and better," she said of the annual event. "I can't thank our volunteers enough. The community is really stepping up to the plate and helping us make this so successful. It is great to have the support of the community."
Not every school chose to donate clothing during the one-day drive, Hassmann said. "Each school had its own venue," she added.
Although the Closet is now well-stocked with clothing for the near future, some items are always in high demand.
"We are always in need of new socks, new underwear and monetary donations," she said. "The donations help us buy socks, underwear and shoes."
In addition, money that is contributed is used to purchase bus passes, gas vouchers and other items to help struggling families make ends meet.
Hassmann tried to get around to as many schools as she could on the morning of the bus pick-ups, and she was at Deer Creek Elementary in King City when that school's fifth-grade Ambassadors along with some other students carried the huge, heavy sacks filled with clothing onto the waiting bus while the marimba band played delightful Caribbean music on the drive-through lane in front of the school.
"Half the Ambassadors are in the marimba band, so we got other students to pitch in and help with loading the bus," Hassmann said.
Carol Diforio and Renee Schlachter were the Deer Creek co-chairs for the event this year, and they said that the Ambassadors did all the promotions for the drive, such as singing to the "Pink Panther" theme song every morning before announcements over the PA system.
The Deer Creek donation drive lasted 10 school days - every teaching classroom had a decorated donation box, and the Ambassadors collected, counted and sorted the items each day.
Deforio added, "It was a great lesson in strategy, planning and implementation, including how to move forward even if your original plan changes - we had some double bookings of the sorting room! As it turned out, the fifth-graders collected the most donations, so they actually celebrated their efforts at the end of the day with a frozen treat party hosted by the Parent Student Organization."
The classroom with the most donations was Kimberly Doughty's first grade, with 516 items, while the fifth grade collected 978 items, and the school total was 3,857 items, according to Deforio.
The idea for Stuff the Bus came from former school district volunteer extraordinaire Jan Kittelson, who passed away last year. She heard about it being done back East and told Hassmann about it, who eagerly adopted the idea.
The weather wasn't so great in late April, but on the morning the buses were loaded at the schools, sunlight was streaming down.
"Jan sent the sunshine," Hassmann said.
The Caring Closet is located at the east end of THS, 9000 S.W. Durham Road, and is open for drop-offs Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the school year.