As wintry weather continues to spread across Ypsilanti and the rest of the region, several organizations are renewing annual efforts to provide warm clothes to Ypsi residents and other locals in need.
This month marked the start of two annual clothing drives benefitting the YCS Clothes Closet at Chapelle Elementary, 111 S. Wallace Blvd. The YCS Clothes Closet serves families with children enrolled in Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) by appointment or during walk-in hours three times a week. About 35 families attended the opening on Nov. 12 and about 100 more families will utilize the clothes closet throughout the 2017-2018 school year.
Several organizations including the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office launched a clothing drive called Grizzly Warm Clothes and Coats for Kids in 2013 as a collaborative effort to provide winter gear to YCS students. United Way's clothing drive, called Washtenaw Cares, has been teaming up with the Grizzly clothing drive since 2015 to collect additional hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, and boots for YCS students.
Grizzly Warm Clothes and Coats for Kids accepts new or clean, gently used items for any age, while Washtenaw Cares only accepts new items for children in preschool through high school. Donation boxes will be accepted at every county building, the YCS Clothes Closet, and United Way of Washtenaw County at 2305 Platt Rd. in Ann Arbor from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15. Those who are interested in donating can also reach out directly to the organizations to contribute items or money.
Kathy Wyatt, executive assistant to Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton, has been at the forefront of Grizzly Warm Clothes and Coats for Kids for all four years. She believes it's important for businesses and residents to work together to take care of and support all Washtenaw County children.
"Kids need to know that their community cares about them," Wyatt says. "That's an important message to send that you are valued and every child in our community should be valued."
She thinks it's "heartbreaking" when children are unable to go to school because they lack adequate clothing to protect them from the elements. She believes generational poverty is perpetuated when children can't go to school, so it's important to address low-income families' basic needs.
"This is something real and concrete to make a child's life better," Wyatt says. "Everybody wants to do something to make the world a little better. This is it."
At any time, there are more than 125 YCS students who identify as homeless, according to social worker Marquan Jackson, who serves as the homeless liaison for YCS and manages the YCS Clothes Closet. He believes the YCS Clothes Closet can be a resource to help financially strapped families reallocate funds, so they don't have to choose between clothing their children or paying their electric bills.
"Our students are faced with enough barriers and some of them have very challenging home lives," Jackson says. "And so knowing that they can come to school and get a pair of socks or a pair of pants and a warm winter coat makes all the difference for some kids."
Families can be referred to the YCS Clothes Closet by school staff, like social workers and teachers, to ensure the families who have the greatest need have access to it. Other families with children enrolled in YCS can visit the clothes closet during walk-in hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
The YCS Clothes Closet accepts almost any item that's gently used, but there's an emphasis on kids' clothing, especially winter gear since it's starting to get colder. Jackson says the clothes closet usually has lots of adult clothing because kids' clothing is the first to go. Sometimes he's able to use monetary donations to buy items that the clothing closet likes to keep stocked or that a particular student desperately needs. Anyone interested in donating items or money to the YCS Clothes Closet should contact Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (734) 244-2443.
Any resident who's in need of clothing year-round can access clothes closets located in at least two Ypsi churches. The clothes closet at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, 1043 W. Michigan Ave., is open for walk-ins on Friday mornings. Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 201 N. River St., has a clothes closet that's open on Wednesday mornings.
Brown AME's clothes closet was initially intended to just be a one-time opportunity for women in need to receive free clothing, but the church decided it should be an ongoing resource for everyone in the community. It's now coupled with the church's Good Samaritan Community Outreach Program every week, so residents have a place where they can get a hot meal, grocery distribution, resource information, and clothing. There's also an optional worship service for anyone who's interested.
"We consider ourselves a comfort station … a center where hearts and minds and spirits are lifted," pastor Jerry Hatter says.
The church's clothing closet relies on donations from the community and about a dozen volunteers who help run it. Almost any item is accepted as long as it's clean and sanitary. Donations can be brought directly to Brown AME on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays after noon.
Hatter thinks the church's clothes closet is a valuable resource for a lot of community members on a weekly basis, but they'll often only utilize it for a short amount of time until they get on their feet. He estimates about 75 people participate in the Good Samaritan Community Outreach Program on any given Friday and about 40 of them utilize the clothes closet while they're there.
Hatter says that in the winter, the church "just has to have that kind of sensitivity" to helping those who may not be able to stay warm on their own.
"We're particularly thankful that we're in a position to help," he says.
Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.
All photos by Doug Coombe.