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Caring Closet says goodbye to founder, director

After decades of giving, Caring Closet director hangs it up

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Marilyn Hassmann has been director of The Caring Closet at Tigard High School since 1999.Technically, Marilyn Hassmann retired from the Tigard-Tualatin School District eight years ago, but you’d never know it.

Hassmann, 66, spends several days each week at The Caring Closet, a nonprofit group she helped launch in 1999 that gives clothing, blankets and other necessities to children in need across the school district.

But Hassmann will officially step down as its director at the end of the summer, saying goodbye to an organization she has been involved with for 15 years.

“It has taken me awhile to say goodbye,” said Hassmann. “I retired from the district eight years ago, and it has taken me this long to let go of this.”

It’s been a labor of love for Hassmann, who laid the foundation for The Caring Closet years ago as a way to help at-risk students.

Students are referred to the program by a teacher or counselor, and visit the Closet to “shop” for items, Hassmann said.

Each child receives pants, shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, shoes, new socks and underwear, as well as books, a towel, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shampoo and a blanket.

“It’s a week’s worth of clothes, all donated and given away free,” Hassmann said.

The Closet normally serves about 1,500 families each year, but Hassmann said she expects to outpace that trend this year, serving about 1,600 families.

“That’s a lot of kids, and that’s just in Tigard-Tualatin,” Hassmann said. “The need is so great for these kids.”

Learn more

The Caring Closet is located on the Tigard High School campus, 9000 S.W. Durham Road.

The Closet is open by appointment on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information on the group, call 503-603-1576.

‘Pay it forward’

Hassmann said poverty issues are often difficult to notice.

Families do what they must in order to get by, Hassmann said.

“People don’t understand the need that is out there,” she said.

Hassmann worked with a student who wasn’t coming to school because he didn’t have any clean clothes.

“For parents in a crisis, they don’t have the means to do laundry every day,” Hassmann said. “In high school, that can be very impressionable, and kids won’t come to school.”

She knew students who had only one pair of shoes, and wore them to school until they fell apart on their feet.

“One thing people don’t understand is that we have high school kids who are homeless,” Hassmann said. “They are couch-hopping or sleeping in their cars.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Mary Woodward Elementary School student Alyssa Anderson grabs a box of clothes during The Caring Closets annual Stuff the Bus clothing drive, on Friday. According to the Oregon Department of Education, the Tigard-Tualatin School District enrolled about 200 students identified as homeless in 2013. That number does not reflect students who did not let officials know about their circumstances.

“Every district has kids like these,” Hassmann said. “We aren’t unique.”

But what is unique is how the district handles that need, said Susan Stark Haydon, a spokeswoman with the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

“The Caring Closet exists because of Marilyn’s heart and tenacious spirit,” Stark Haydon said. “Over the years, she has made it possible for hundreds of students to come to school ready to learn because they have clothing and shoes that fit. By providing those basic necessities, Marilyn and her volunteers have made an immeasurable difference in their lives.”

Last week the Closet collected thousands of new items through “Stuff the Bus,” an annual clothing drive at each school across the district.

On Friday, students filled two school busses with shirts, pants and shoes for the Closet. Hassmann said final numbers aren’t in yet for how much was donated, but estimated it would take the rest of the summer to sort the thousands of items, so they can be distributed to students this fall.

Families in need often aren’t used to the type of help The Caring Closet provides, Hassmann said, and the experience can be overwhelming.

“The looks on parents’ faces, some of them are in tears, and I tell them, ‘All you have to do, when you get back on your feet, is just pay it forward,’” Hassmann said. “They don’t have to do anything else, just be kind to someone else. That makes all the difference.”

Hassmann said it was community support that led to the Closet’s success.

“It wouldn’t be here without people like them,” she said. “Thank you for letting us progress and become what it is. Thank you for helping all these kids throughout the years. That’s the best thanks you can give.”

Hassmann said she couldn’t have imagined a better career.

“When you see a kid that is heading down the wrong course, if you care enough — and you have to care — you can change a kid’s life,” Hassmann said. “And that’s what the Closet is about.”

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