The Star-Herald

Free community closet in Aroostook helps fulfill families’ back-to-school needs

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Several community organizations have come together this summer to help local families send their children back to school in style.

United Way of Aroostook and the Aroostook County Action Program officially opened the doors of their Second Chances Kids Community Closet for two days, July 26 and 27. The temporary “pop-up store,” set up at the Presque Isle Housing Authority’s Community Center, featured clothing for all children from babies and toddlers to high school students. The items were free and available to any parent in the area who needs help preparing their children to go back to school.

Similar offerings will be made in Fort Kent and Houtlon in August.

Throughout the month of July, United Way and ACAP collected hundreds of community-donated shirts, pants, jeans, shoes and coats as well as smaller items such as backpacks and toys. They also received a $500 grant from Jobs for Maine Graduates to purchase packages of new socks and underwear.

Second Chances replaces the “Dress a Child” program in which both organizations applied for funding to provide clothing vouchers for families. United Way Executive Director Sherry Locke noted that the community closet offered a greater opportunity for families to obtain back-to-school clothing without filling out applications and meeting the income guidelines set by other assistance programs.

“The community closet allows families to come in and look through a variety of clothing and find the sizes that fit each individual child,” Locke said. “With ‘Dress a Child,’ we were more limited in what sizes we could provide because the clothing was sent to us to give to families.”

Although the official hours for the Presque Isle community closet were 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Locke said that families lined up outside as early as 8 a.m. on Thursday, which demonstrates how the need for affordable clothing has increased in Aroostook County.

“As the cost of living goes up, more and more families are forced to put clothing purchases on the wayside in order to afford other expenses,” Locke said. “Second Chances allows any family to pick up clothing, even if they would normally be above the income guidelines for other programs but could still use the help.”

On Thursday, 9-year-old Carter Strother had a blast picking out new clothes with his mother, Martha Dunn, of Presque Isle. She said the community closet helped her find much-needed back-to-school clothes for her son.

“It’s been a real blessing to be able to come here,” she said.

Heather Owens of Presque Isle also stopped by the community closet Thursday to pick up clothing for her four children, who range in age from six months to 14 years old.

“I like that there’s a variety of clothes here and that they’re in good shape,” Owens said. “I’m very grateful that this was set up. The extra clothes will help when my kids return to school and even after that.”

Twenty volunteers, including officials from United Way and ACAP, were on hand to set up the store and assist shoppers. Monica Jerkins, resource developer for ACAP, stated that, unlike the former “Dress a Child” program, the community closet provided greater opportunities for people to help with the cause, especially through clothing donations.

“It’s rewarding when you see kids getting excited about the clothes they find for school,” Jerkins said. “We could not do what we’ve done today without the support of our community, who has stepped up to fulfill these families’ needs.”

Second Chances Kids Community Closet also will be open to the public in Fort Kent at the ACAP Center on Aug. 8 and in Houlton during the annual Adopt A Block Party on Aug. 18. Hours on both days will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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