Nestled inside the busy hallways of North Royalton High School is a small space that does very big things.
The Caring Closet is a special storeroom that stocks clothing, shoes, food, toiletries, school supplies and other items for students in need. The response to the blink-and-you-might-miss-it space has been nothing short of enlightening.
“I remember one student in particular asked me if I had any lotion, so we walked down to The Caring Closet, and once we got in there, he looked around at everything inside and said to me, ‘Can I have that pair of socks? It was wintertime and he sat right down on the floor and put the socks on his feet,” said School Counselor and Department Chair Kriste Smith. “Then he said his shoes were pretty small, a size and a half too small, and he took shoes. He was so surprised he could have the items. Seeing that made me really appreciate all the donations we have and what we’re doing.”
The idea to create such a space stemmed from a time last year when a student was deducted points for not wearing a dress shirt for his classroom speech. The staff realized only later that the student did not own a dress shirt and did not have the means to buy one. After some collaboration between School Psychologist Rachel Undercoffer, Director of Pupil Services Julie Bogden, Principal Sean Osborne and Smith, staff created The Caring Closet, a private place where students in need could discreetly pick up items they aren’t receiving at home due to financial needs. Bars of soap, bottles of shampoo and body wash, packages of socks and underwear, boxes of granola bars and racks of girls and boys clothing and shoes are just some of the items lining the closet’s shelves. The Caring Closet is used on a weekly basis.
The Caring Closet is in part maintained by students in Intervention Specialist Kate West’s life skills class. West’s students assist in sorting, washing, ironing and hanging donated clothes in The Caring Closet. Graphic Design students decorated The Caring Closet with colorful inside lettering and door decals and a small sign on the outside indicates whether the Closet is vacant or in use. Students “shop” the closet individually and are given a discreet brown paper grocery sack to put their items in. The space opened last January.
Another component of The Caring Closet stands in a nearby hallway. The “Take What You Need” board is filled with bright Post-It notes displaying encouraging messaging like “I am worthy,” “You are here for a reason,” “You light up the room,” and “It’s not always easy.” Tucked amongst the Post-Its are pouches holding basic toiletry items like toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste. Smith restocks the items on a near-daily basis.
“The need is absolutely surprising,” Smith said. “These are pleasant kids who always have a smile on their face and you wouldn’t know by looking at them that they have a need.”
Items in The Caring Closet come by way of donation. A grant from the North Royalton Educational Foundation helped craft the space with racks and hangers, and thanks to an anonymous donation, an iron, ironing board and laundry baskets were purchased.
When it comes to recognizing students in need, staff relies on their own observations, referrals from teachers/coaches/parents and the students themselves. To help boost awareness, students in the high school’s broadcasting class will be creating a commercial about The Caring Closet.
Those looking to donate to The Caring Closet can bring their bagged donations to the high school. Needed items include toiletries, shoes, clothes, school supplies, packaged underwear and socks and boys’ button-down dress shirts. Laundry detergent (liquid or powdered only) is also appreciated. Cash and checks are also accepted made out to North Royalton High School with “The Caring Closet” written in the memo portion. For more information about The Caring Closet, call NRHS at (440) 582-7801.

Contributing Writer