Lost and found is no longer the boneyard for forgotten sweatshirts, dropped gloves, and last semester’s gym clothes. These days in the Upper Valley, a school building’s lost and found section is a treasure trove, but only half because it’s full of free stuff.
“It’s kids’ clothes,” explains Monica Rutherford, organizer of the Upper Valley’s teens-only clothing bank, the Teen Closet. “I know it’s teen clothes, because it belongs to the teens.” And teens are the target market for the free bimonthly event focused on helping Valley children in grades 6 though 12, from financially struggling families, find the clothes they like to wear.
Teen Closet was created last year, just for this age group, Rutherford said, because when she worked for Encompass, she saw lots of organizations providing help for families with young children, and for seniors.
“But what about the kids who are in middle school and high school?” she wondered, and started asking around, she said. “There isn’t really a lot for them… and that’s the age when they really start to care about their clothes.”
She also focuses on teen clothing because she doesn’t really have enough space available to broaden the target.
Until a few months ago, the event didn’t actually have a consistent home.
“This church (Mount Si Lutheran) just opened the doors and invited the Teen Closet here!” Rutherford said. She isn’t a member of the church, although a friend and volunteer helper at last Tuesday’s sorting and prep night, Suzy Schuba, is.
Schuba, Rutherford, and about a dozen others gathered at the church that night to sort, stack and hang the clothes that will be available for “shoppers” at the Teen Closet, 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5. After the clothes were hung and the storage closet was stacked high with extra bins of clothing for the event—“Yeah, that’s Monica,” Schuba said—she and Rutherford stayed to sort through several shopping bags full of soaps and toiletries that Rutherford had received from an Issaquah business.
Donations tend to find Rutherford, she admitted, sometimes just appearing on her porch. She goes to each school’s lost and found a couple of times a year —each of them first tries to reunite kids and clothes for months beforehand, she says—and appreciates their generosity.
“All of the middle schools and the high school have been really generous about letting me dig through their lost and found,” she said. “The middle school custodians especially have been awesome. I’ve had stuff that they’ve laundered for me!”
Her last scouring of the Chief Kanim lost and found yielded about five trash bags filled with hoodies, T-shirts, and other clothing destined for the Closet.
The work does increase right before a Closet night, Rutherford said, but it’s far from a full-time job for her. She gets a lot of help from volunteers, at first friends and neighbors, but “now that the word is getting out about Teen Closet people are contacting me about what they can do, how they can help,” she said.
A core group of moms help her to staff every shopping night, she said, which is wonderful because “I don’t have kids help at the Teen Closet.” She strives to protect the privacy of the 30 to 50 people who come to the Closet, about half of whom are kids themselves.
She wants everyone who comes to find a few items they like, and she doesn’t limit participation.
“If they actually show up here to get some clothes, they get some clothes,” she said.
Teen Closet shoppers will find plenty of basketball shorts, yoga pants, and casual clothing, but no formal wear. Rutherford apologetically explains why to Audrey Miller’s mom—Audrey volunteered for the sorting night—that she just doesn’t have the space to store such items.
“What about right before an event? There’s a winter formal at Mount Si this weekend,” Audrey’s mom asked hopefully. She had a closet, stuffed with Audrey’s past formal dresses, that she wanted to reclaim.
No luck for Miller there, but Rutherford had learned about the Dec. 8 dance, which neither of her high-schoolers had mentioned. It turns out the Teen Closet is a good place to pick up information, too.
Coordinator Monica Rutherford looks over a rack of clothes for this week’s Closet event, 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the church, 411 N.E. 8th St., North Bend.