Shreve Elementary fifth-grader, Anderson “Andi” Musser, had a friend confide in her, expressing her wish that she had girls' clothing to wear to school.
“The student had brothers and was used to wearing their hand-me-downs. So, I went to my closet and got the clothes (and shoes) that I had outgrown. I gave them to her at school the next day. And she was really happy," Andi recalled.
The warm gesture – and her friend's tears – sparked Andi's idea for a Kindness Closet, a place students can visit during the school day to "shop" for a few new or gently worn garments. Andi, 10, is working to stock and organize the closet for students from families with limited incomes or those simply in need of essentials.
"She realized what a difference that made for her friend. And it was so easy to do," said Jessica Musser, Andi's mom. "She asked, 'Can we do this for more people?' She took the initiative at that point."
It was then that Andi approached her teacher, Jennafer Flinner, with her idea known as the Kindness Closet. Flinner encouraged Andi to take the proposal to the principal.
"She came to me, and I said, 'Yup, let's do it,'” Principal Adam Stein said, helping Andi create a business model.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt. Schools were focused on establishing health and safety protocols to remain open for in-person learning.
A few months ago, Andi once again brought up the idea and told Stein she was serious about turning her vision into a reality.
With Flinner and Stein’s help, Andi drafted a letter to area businesses, detailing the Kindness Closet and asking for donations. Musser then drove her daughter to local stores so that Andi could hand-deliver the letter to store managers and supervisors. Businesses such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Everything Rubbermaid, Goodwill, Kohl's, and Mission: Thrift pitched in.
"She cares and has a very big heart," Musser said. "Andi has devoted a lot of time to this project, last year and this year, without complaints."
Part of Andi's plan is a student action team. Once a week, student volunteers will stop by the closet at the start of their recess to tidy up the room.
To access the closet, students will fill out referral forms expressing a desire or need for new clothing, which they'll give to a teacher. Staff members might also recognize if a child needs fresh clothing. While paying a visit to the closet, a school employee will supervise and help students find the right size.
“The goal is to keep the process discreet and avoid singling out a student,” Andi said. “Acquiring a few new items from the closet is meant to bring them joy and confidence.”
Andi is hopeful the closet will grow beyond Shreve Elementary. "It's great for Andi to see her vision come true," Stein said. "It's part of our culture here at Shreve. ... Proud is an understatement, for sure. It's what every principal and parent would want for their kid to do - to put others first.”
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