A community effort in Harrisonville is keeping kids warm this winter from the frigid temperatures and snow that has graced the Midwest in recent months.
The new Cat’s Basement within the Harrisonville School District is a place where students in search of clothing, shoes, winter coats, or school supplies can have their needs fulfilled.
This year, the district has been able to assist by providing 71 students with winter coats and clothing for 195 students.
Located in the basement of the district’s alternative school, the Cat’s Basement is set up like a store with shelves and racks fitted with clean clothing for students unable to afford even the most basic of necessities.
“I’ve brought kids down here and they’ve picked out their own stuff, or if they didn’t have time, I would come down, grab a few things and take them back (to the school),” Harrisonville Middle School Counselor Valerie Holmes said.
The closet utilizes a variety clothing sizes to fit a variety of students -- from the very young children to older teens, who are in need of adult-sized clothing.
Harrisonville Communications and Community Relations Director Jill Filer said the idea for the Cat’s Basement was spurred last winter.
“A few years prior, the middle school had come up with an idea to have something like this -- a clothing place at their building,” Filer said.
Filer felt inspired to make a similar resource available on a district level with the launch of the Bright Futures Harrisonville initiative in 2012.
Students who had outgrown their clothing, didn’t have things like a set of gym clothes, or those couldn’t afford buying new belongings, could go up to the storage room, which had been given the name of the “Cat’s Closet,” with a staff person, and pick out the item they needed.
“The concept was great, and when Bright Futures got going, we started to think of a central location where we could have it,” Filer said.
Filer identified a vacant space in the basement of the alternative school that would work for what she had envisioned.
Through the generosity of the Harrisonville United Methodist Church, Elks Lodge, Rotary Club, and several other local businesses, the district was able to remodel the basement to include shelving, clothing racks, a shower, and a clothing washer and dryer.
“We’ve had a lot of volunteers in here getting this stuff ready,” Filer said. “We never asked for clothing, but people started hearing that we were going to have this and clothing kept on getting dropped off.”
The Cat’s Basement was ready by summer in time for Bright Future’s Back-To-School event.
“Families were able to come during the Back-to-School Fair and pick out three outfits and they all got a new pair of shoes,” Filer said. “It’s been a great community effort and we’re so excited about being able to have this for our kids,” Filer said.
Throughout the school year, students have been able to utilize the basement as their needs continued -- especially as kids grow taller and outgrow their pants, or as their shoes deteriorated or became too small.
“Their toes are popping out and there are holes in the soles of their feet,” Holmes said. “It’s almost daily that I get a call from a teacher or another adult in our building to check on a kid.”
During the winter months, there has also been a demand on winter apparel.
Due to the proximity of the basement, students attending the alternative school have also been given the opportunity to gain job skills.
“We wanted this to be a place where our alternative school students could also get some work skills,” Filer said.
Students are receiving experience in learning how to stock shelves and keep inventory.
“(The basement) was a great place for this to be so that these kids could benefit, and then other kids could benefit, too,” Filer said.
Harrisonville Middle School students taking home economics or life skills courses have also received hands-on experience as part of their studies in laundering the clothing donations that come in to the Cat’s Basement.
“It’s been a great project so far in getting the community, kids, and staff involved,” Filer said. “This is what Bright Futures is about...it’s a community partnership. There were so many people involved in getting it up and going.”
In addition to the basement, the middle school has continued to keep their Cat’s Closet open this year.
“We check ours first, and if we don’t have it, we come here,” Holmes said. “It works really well for us. It’s fun to bring (students) over here and (see them) light up and pick out whatever they want. “
Holmes said students have been receptive of the initiative. She said 5-7 students, on average, use the closet on a daily basis.
“They know about the closet and they’re never afraid to ask anyone,” Holmes said. “They know it’s there and that it’s accessible.”
The Cat’s Basement is currently low in inventory of girls and boys pants, sizes 5-10, and men-sized pants for middle school and high school boys.
Pant donations may be dropped off at the Harrisonville Alternative School, 402 Eastwood Rd., between 8 a.m.-3 p.m. on normal school days.