The bright colors and sparkles of the dress’ material stand out here in the rather spartan hallway, painted utilitarian gray.
Thanks to the Sequim School District’s care closet program, one that at no cost provides everything from toiletries and shoes to clothing to the occasional formal dance dress and the like, more students at all grade levels have a chance to attend classes and school events without being concerned about their appearance.
“We try to meet their basic needs so they can focus on their education,” said Merrin Packer, Equity and Family Engagement Coordinator for the school district.
The district’s care closet, located in a former classroom up the stairs in the auditorium and former Sequim high School building (now used as the district office), is filled with racks of clothing, from girls’ and boys’ sizes up through young adult, with plastic bins filled with various clothing lining one wall, boxes of toiletries lining the other.
Students whose families show a need — they qualify for free/reduced lunch rates or are experiencing homelessness — can “shop” for free, picking up everything from shirts and pants hygiene products and shoes.
Packer coordinates with Sequim’s schools, most of which have a version of a care closet on their campuses, to meet needs of all grade levels.
“The needs are easier to tell at an elementary age,” Packer said. “At the high school (level), we rely on counselors and the kids themselves.”
Popular items for secondary students are often shoes as well as leggings and sweatpants, Packer said, while alarm clocks seem to be a popular item recently, she noted. Younger students are often in needs of shoes, and fresh socks and underwear.
The care closet also has a few more specific items, such as graduation robes, or more business-like attire for job interviews.
Oh, and the dresses.
“There’s no reason girls shouldn’t go to an event just because they can’t afford a dress,” Packer said.
Students can come to the care closet with a parent/guardian or with a friend and pick out needed items, which are either new or are clean and unstained and unripped, Packer said.
Packer said the care closet wants to make sure it is fully stocked on certain items such as feminine hygiene products; a high number of students are unable to afford those products, she noted, and a report shows 86 percent of girls have accidents at school.
Supplies come from a number of sources, Packer said, from community donations to funds from local groups such as Soroptimist International of Sequim and Sequim Lions Club, items left over from the Back to School Fair to items purchased using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.
The closet even got a donation of 65 helmets from Sequim Bike Works as well as a set of bunk beds, Packer said.
About 43 percent of Sequim students qualify as low-income, Packer said, and the COVID pandemic hasn’t helped.
Once out from the pandemic, the district’s care closet organizers may be interested in having volunteers help for restocking and distribution.
“I can’t wait to see how it grows over the years,” Packer said.
For students who are experiencing homelessness issues and are identified with the district’s McKinney-Vento program, Packer is the contact; for students that qualify for low-income, they should go through the main district office. Call 360-582-3260 for more information.
The school district’s main office at 503 N. Sequim Ave. is also accepting donations, Packer said.