Countless trendy and timeless fashions fill 142 corners of the University Center with life. The clothes are patiently hanging on the racks waiting to be hand-picked and worn by students. Professional suits and sports coats, graphic tees and workout clothes are among the well-organized and accessible mix of clothing items.
The Care Closet is a university resource that provides clothing to all students regardless of their financial situation. NKU Clothing Resource is part of the Care Closet parent organization in Newport, Ky. This branch helped deliver the university’s launch of the program in 2021, said Carolyn Noe, director of the Institute for Health Innovation.
After the launch of FUEL NKU, a free food pantry for NKU students, the Care Cupboard blossomed at the Health Innovation Institute. Noe is intrigued by the mission behind FUEL, which suggests that if food insecurity is an issue, finding affordable clothing can be a problem as well.
“If students don’t meet their basic nutritional needs, to me that probably means they can’t afford clothes, or at least not as many clothes as practice,” Noe said.
Before starting Care Closet, Noe explored similar resources at other universities. She realized that many organizations had the same mission, but their resources were short. Students in these universities are limited to one or two items, which she felt was not enough, especially full-time internships or jobs.
The Care Closet has no limit on how many items a visitor is allowed to take home, but coordinator Peyton Anderson gently recommends leaving with two to three bags, which typically holds ten to twenty pieces of clothing, two to three pairs of shoes, and a bag or purse. These items can be a mix of professional wear as well as casual wear as the venue always has fifty percent of both categories.
Noy College recognizes that the ever-increasing cost of tuition, housing, and food is an expensive undertaking for all students that won’t be abating anytime soon. High-quality fashion items come at a great price, and students need to feel like their best selves in the classroom and as they enter the professional field.
Anderson recalls her own anxiety about affording basic necessities, much less new clothes.
“When I was in college, we didn’t have a Care Closet here at NKU. ‘Oh my God, how am I going to buy groceries? How am I going to buy clothes?’ I think there’s this natural stigma, and I think places like Care Closet and FUEL NKU give normalcy to the need for these things,” Anderson said.
The organization works closely with LGBTQ+ services, providing a comfortable space for students to come in and choose clothing that fits their body and preferences. The organization realized that the cost of buying a new wardrobe to match their identity would be prohibitive for college students.
Students who have children or families to care for may receive clothing for these individuals. Any unmet need with Care Closet’s current supply can be met at the Newport branch, which is helping children and families in need.
Matthew Waites, assistant coordinator of Care Closet, points out the privacy and judgment-free nature of the space. He urged all students to explore the resource without any second thought. Men on campus feel they are an underserved demographic in the care closet, which can result in stigmatization from receiving help.
“If you come in here, I’m the only one who knows you’re in here, and I don’t remember their faces,” White said.
NKU student Steve Halpin, who returned to college at age fifty, is proof of the value of the Care Closet. After Halpin was released from prison, he decided to turn his life around by becoming a Christian, getting a job, and finishing his college degree. Returning to the university setting was an overwhelming experience for Halpin at first, but he soon found the resources he needed to succeed.
Halpin recalled walking into the university center to attend the learning center and just arriving to look at the care closet. Since then, he has visited the treasure on at least three separate occasions, finding new items on each visit. His catering company job required a white dress shirt, black pants, black tie and shoes, all of which he collected from Kerr’s closet.
For Halpin, the friendliness of staff like Waites made an impact on his college experience. The students are urged not to cheat themselves out of a valuable resource and have a message for those struggling to accept Care Closet’s donation.
“I tell people not to be shy about coming in here because they always have a chance to come back when they get back on their feet,” Halpin said.
Whites also pointed out that the lack of supply of clothing is an unthinkable issue in Kerr’s wardrobe. The organization receives new clothes every day, which can be from the Newport branch or can choose donations from teachers, staff and some students. One of the challenges, Waits says, is of course too many clothes and not enough dressers.
Anderson reassured students who may not be financially strapped but still able to take advantage of the grant.
“In the same way that FUEL has a constant flow of food from Kroger, so do we. So even though our space looks small and you might be like, ‘Oh no, I’m taking all three sweaters, chances are they’re not out like 150 other sweaters. I try to tell students every minute that when you’re done shopping, we’ll fill up what you bought,” Anderson said.
Students have options in how they choose to visit the care unit. Walk-in hours are available every weekday, and appointments are offered on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Students who want to make an appointment simply visit the organization’s website, fill a short appointment request form and walk in at their scheduled time. The inquiry form asks basic questions such as the student’s size, preferred fashion styles and the purpose of the appointment. With this information, Care Closet staff can pull recommended items for the student and, if necessary, seek additional clothing from the Newport organization.
He spoke of the personal satisfaction he gets from serving prospective students, especially the life-changing resources they provide in special situations. For anyone interested in seeing what the care closet is all about, Waits says there’s no better time, and if you’re hesitant to take from the property, just bring a donation.
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