Dr. Jeannie Stone is leader of Richardson ISD, the 19th largest school district in the state, but she’s also beautiful and glamorous, fashionable and stylish. That’s why it took many by surprise Thursday when she got personal while helping to dedicate the new RISD Council of PTAs Clothes Closet. Stone said she appreciates the impact new and gently used clothes can make in the life of an underprivileged child because she knows the impact they made on her own life.
She was that child.
“I was raised in conditions of poverty growing up,” Stone told the assembled crowd. “In 1976, I was in the 5th grade and Mrs. Avery, my art teacher, asked me to stay after school and come to her room, which I often did because of my love of art.”
The teacher had a bag of clothing outgrown by her daughter and gave it to Stone on the premise that Stone would enjoy the t-shirt on top, one with an art message.
“Three t-shirts down in this bag was a Shaun Cassidy t-shirt,” recalled Stone, “and also sweaters, coats, a pair of white patent leather go-go cuff boots and a new pair of jeans. Mrs. Avery didn’t give me these clothes because of the art t-shirt. She knew I came to school every day with pants that were too short and shoes that didn’t fit and an old coat. For all of my 5th grade year I wore that Shaun Cassidy t-shirt at least once a week. I wish I still had it. Fifth grade was the best year.”
“The people who work at this Clothes Closet have the same heart as Mrs. Avery,” continued Stone, gushing with praise for the assembled volunteers. “They want the kids to be treated with the same dignity that is going to make their year, their day, their life better. It truly can change lives.”
Current Clothes Closet Co-Chair Gail McAda admitted the effort had humble roots.
The first facility was set up in a single classroom in Greenwood Hills Elementary 30 years ago, remembered McAda, a former Council of PTAs and Texas PTA president. The clothes closet expanded to include more classrooms as more students needed help. Eventually, the outreach moved to 9709 Security Row. When that building sold last year, a new home was required.
RISD purchased the house at 1239 W. Belt Line, originally slated for demolition to make room for parking at Richardson High School, and renovated it with racks and dressing rooms. Art was donated by RISD art teachers, and donated washers and dryers mean volunteers won’t have to lug home contributed clothing to be washed.
“The house has good bones,” said Jerre Boling, RISD’s project manager, “and there’s a bus stop right out front. It’s a little smaller, but it’s not in an industrial area like Security Row was. Once I brought the ladies out here, they loved it.”
Volunteers collect and sort on Mondays, and needy students arrive on Tuesdays for one-hour sessions. Referred by their local school’s teacher, counselor or nurse, they “shop” for clothing, shoes and coats and receive new socks, underwear and toiletries. The Clothes Closet also hosts an annual Prom Dress Boutique and Shoe-Shoe Train.
“Like you, I live in a suburban ISD and oftentimes we make an assumption that there isn’t much need,” shared Lisa Holbrook, current president of the Texas PTA, attending the ribbon-cutting from the Houston area. “There are children from the same family that take turns coming to school so they can share clothes or who never owned their own toothbrush so they share with siblings. Many people that are wildly successful will share that they had a hard childhood but there was some adult who cared.”
If you’d like to contribute to the RISD Council of PTAs Clothes Closet, gently used clothing is collected during the school year by the PTA on each RISD school’s campus or at the new clothes closet facility, 1239 W. Belt Line, Mondays from 9:30 to noon.