Grant, parent funding help keep Clothes Closet doors open

When the Clackamas Council branch of the Oregon Parent Teacher Association (PTA) went dormant due to a lack of volunteers this school year, one small but well-received program almost became an unintended casualty.

The Clackamas County Clothes Closet, located at the old Oregon City High School, serves more than 800 children during a typical school year, providing clothing to students in need throughout the county. Dependent on PTA grants for funding, the Clothes Closet was left without stable funding and began this school year operating on reserve funds.

Children are referred to the Clothes Closet through their schools or social services. Each child can visit in the fall or winter and again in the spring, choosing up to three outfits suitable for school as well as a jacket or coat, shoes and other items, including two pairs each of socks and underwear. Although most items of clothing are gently used, socks and underwear must be purchased new.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - The Clothes Closet depends on donations for its operating budget as well as its clothing supply. PTA lead Suzanne Dove, left, and Erin Fernald, president of the Clackamas Council PTA, work together to keep the Closet open.The Clothes Closet operates as a partnership between the Oregon City School District and the Clackamas Council PTA. OCSD provides space and infrastructure support. A group of about 10 volunteers staff the Clothes Closet. Organizers depend on donations to fund operations, and the amount fluctuates each year.

Rescuing the Clothes Closet

ReynoldsBetty Reynolds, a member of the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board and the grandparent of children at Athey Creek Middle School and Willamette Primary School, attended a meeting of the Clackamas Council PTA in the spring. The meeting was convened to discuss the Clothes Closet’s uncertain future; one option was shutting its doors, at least temporarily. Reynolds attended as an advocate for the Clothes Closet.

“I walked out of the meeting as the new vice president (of the Clackamas Council PTA) and we’ve been working hard to keep the Clothes Closet functioning,” Reynolds said.

When the Clothes Closet opened in September, a rush of students came to the doors. In just two days, 100 children came to shop, and the Clothes Closet ran out of several items and sizes. The need for immediate financial support was acute.

Responding to the need, Reynolds approached WL-WV parent groups.

“I made presentations to several West Linn-Wilsonville PTAs and PTSAs and contacted the remainder by phone or email,” she said. “The response was a wonderful demonstration of the commitment of families and the community in West Linn and Wilsonville to students in need.”

Parent groups at Willamette, Bolton, Trillium Creek and Lowrie primary schools donated or pledged amounts between $100 and $250. The PTSA at Athey Creek Middle School did the same. That money made all the difference as the Clothes Closet struggled to stay afloat.

Getting the word out

“It’s really about educating the schools,” said Suzanne Dove, Clothes Closet PTA coordinator and parent. “A lot of people don’t even know we’re here. The word is getting out. We have to re-form how we’re going to run this business.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - The Clackamas County Clothes Closet makes clean, gently used clothing available at no costs to children in need throughout the county.“Because we have Betty, our campaign kind of started in West Linn-Wilsonville,” Erin Fernald, Clackamas Council PTA president, said. “Getting that education piece out there has been our first objective.”

Reynolds, Fernald and Dove all credited the Oregon City School District for its support, which Reynolds called “incredible.”

“The building, the support, keeping it going even when the council wasn’t doing enough,” Dove said. Support comes from in from Oregon City schools, too, both in terms of money and donated clothing. Donations from businesses are particularly welcome.

“After my presentation at Bolton Primary, I was approached by PTA member Erin Moore, who is also marketing specialist for OnPoint,” Reynolds said. “She suggested I submit an application for an OnPoint community grant.”

Exceeding grants

Reynolds submitted a grant asking OnPoint for $250, and learned Oct. 17 that the credit union’s community relations committee instead had decided to award $1,000.

“OnPoint’s generosity was astonishing,” Reynolds said.

Kelly Schrader, OnPoint’s senior vice president/chief operations and risk officer, explained why the credit union upped the amount.

“We knew that the Clothes Closet had been on hiatus in the 2012-2013 school year and felt strongly that this left a void in Clackamas County for an important group of students and families,” Schrader said. “We saw that a dedicated group of volunteers with the Clackamas Council of PTAs was working hard to bridge the gap but needed financial support to help provide their much-needed service. Providing funds was a way to support their efforts and the communities we do business in.

“The Clothes Closet’s mission to boost the self-confidence of students in need and lighten the financial burden for their parents or guardians really resonated with us,” Shrader added.

OnPoint welcomes requests from eligible community organizations. Learn about OnPoint’s charitable giving program at

Need is still great

Although the Clothes Closet continues to seek sustainable funding, its operations are secure for now. However, the money could go quickly if demand stays at its current high level.

“I’m really encouraged by the outpouring from the community and the schools now when our need is the greatest it’s ever been,” Dove said.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Suzanne Dove, PTA leader for the Clackamas County Clothes Closet, consults with volunteer Rachel Thompson.Fernald predicted that the Clackamas Council PTA would approve a grant to the Clothes Closet when it receives its own funding from Oregon PTA in November. Each local council receives $1 per parent registered in the previous school year.

“I’m hoping to help this catapult to the next level,” Fernald said.

A steady stream of visitors continued entering the Clothes Closet. Volunteers greeted them cordially, assisting them as if they were shoppers in any ordinary clothing store. Clean clothing was sorted by size, gender and type. Rows of shoes filled one wall, amid racks and bins of Halloween costumes, toddler clothing and adult-sized clothing suitable for wearing to job interviews.

Dove said the need for clothing never stops. She mentioned needing jeans to restock the racks, especially in smaller sizes, about 4 to 7. Shoes of all sizes, for boys and girls, are particularly needed as well. Although the Clothes Closet focuses on serving children of school age, young siblings of referred students receive clothing as well, no matter their age.

“Having new, quality clothing is a real confidence booster,” Reynolds said.

The Clothes Closet is located in Building A of Oregon City School District’s Jackson Campus, also known as the old Oregon City High School, at 1306 12th St. in Oregon City. The Clothes Closet has its own entrance near the corner of Harrison and 12th streets. It is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. from September through May.

The Clothes Closet follows the Oregon City School District calendar and is closed during all breaks, holidays and unexpected school closures such as those due to inclement weather. Donations are accepted from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the building’s main office. If you would like a tax receipt for your donation, you must drop it off at the Clothes Closet during its open hours. Call 503-785-8877 with questions. Spanish speakers can call 503-785-8883.

Kate Hoots can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 112. Follow her on Twitter, @CommuniKater.

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