A closet for more than clothes

Jul. 11, 2014 @ 08:45 AM

The first day that a child spends with a new foster parent can be hectic, lots to do and little time for the two to get acqainted, but at Caldwell County Department of Social Services, there's a second-floor room that can take away some of that pressure and even provide the first foundations of a new relationship.

A closet may not sound like much, but the Clothing Care Closet at Caldwell DSS supplies foster families with much more than the shirts, pants and shoes that line the walls, it provides a place for foster kids - sometimes having only the clothes on their backs - to "shop" like they're at a department store, knocking one thing off the to-do list for foster parents that first day, said Casey Puett, children and family supervisor with DSS, who has helped with the closet for years.

At an open house Thursday, Puett and others who have worked on the closet got the chance to showcase the renovated space, which has transformed from shelves of dissheveled clothes and items to a neat, clean and organized closet, sorted by gender and size, making finding clothes that fit much easier than in the past.

The closet serves children up to age 18, and is home to thousands of items, including rows of shirts, jackets, shoes, socks and even Halloween costumes, prom and formal dresses, diapers, wipes, baby food, backpacks, gloves, hats, glasses and more.

"We started out with stuff laying everywhere," Puett said, but starting in December some employees at DSS started working to get the closet organized and efficient, and got to work out in the community gathering resources.

Crystal Price, a legal assistant with DSS and project manager for the closet, reached out to the community, garnering anonymous donations and connecting with Lowe's Home Improvement, which donated materials and crafted a plan for the closet, with double rows of clothes hanging on either side and running down the middle, shelves for shoes and cubbies for smaller items.

"The kids treat it like a little shopping center," Puett said, adding that on the first day with a new foster family, when children have been through so much, the feel-good "shopping" helps facilitate the relationship with the foster parent, and helps them start to get back to normal.

Puett said she enjoys working with the closet so much "because it's so needed. I've worked in agencies that didn't have anything to send."

But more clothes are always needed, with shoes and clothes hangers high on the priority list as well. To donate to the closet, make sure the clothes or items  are in good condition, not stained, torn or worn out, and bring them to the second floor of the Caldwell County Health and Human Services Building at 2345 Morganton Blvd. in Lenoir.