Vulnerable Population Served:
The APS Community Clothing Bank serves the members of our community who are most vulnerable: children living in poverty. In Albuquerque Public Schools, nearly 69% of children qualify for free or reduced price lunch, or over 57,500 students. To put this in context, a family of three qualifying for free lunch makes less than $26,000 a year. Imagine being a parent with just over $2,000 a month to pay for rent, utilities, transportation, food and clothes. It is clear that for many, the math just does not add up. The APS Community Clothing Bank exists to ensure that no child has to miss school due to the lack of clothes or shoes.
Community Need for Program:
Just like food banks, clothing banks are organized to meet a basic need of Albuquerque’s children. Over the past decade, Albuquerque has seen increasing rates of poverty and higher demand for Clothing Bank services. Starting in 2013, new partnerships with Goodwill Industries of New Mexico and Payless Shoe Source allowed the APS Community Clothing Bank to increase the number of students being served from hundreds to thousands. In 2016-2017, the Clothing Bank served 2,775 students, a new record. In 2017-2018, the Clothing Bank had already served over 2,200 by mid-year.
Method of Service Provision:
Students needing help with clothing are identified in a number of ways. Sometimes, teachers notice students coming to school without a winter coat or with ragged shoes. Sometimes, parents and older students request help with clothes directly. And sometimes, attendance officers discover the real reason students aren’t coming to school is that they are embarrassed by their clothes. When this happens, a school liaison fills out an online request form. Within seven days, the Clothing Bank delivers a package with 6 pairs of new socks, 6 pairs of underwear, a hoody or light jacket, clothing vouchers for three outfits at Goodwill Industries of New Mexico and if needed, a voucher for a new pair of shoes from Payless Shoe Source. In total students are eligible for up to three Goodwill clothing vouchers (or 9 outfits), two sets of new socks and underwear, and one shoe card per school year.
Thanks to a partnership with Goodwill Industries of New Mexico, the clothing vouchers are provided free of cost. Goodwill stores are open evenings and weekends and are located near bus lines throughout the city, which takes advantage of existing distribution networks and saves thousands of dollars annually. Similarly, shoe vouchers, while not free, are very cost effective and allow students the dignity of choosing their own shoes.
The APS Community Clothing Bank also partners with the Assistance League’s Operation School Bell, which focuses on providing shoes and uniforms at the thirty-five (35) APS Title I elementary schools and middle schools at which uniforms are required. If a student at a uniform school needs shoes or clothes, he or she is referred to the Assistance League and not the APS Community Clothing Bank. The thousands of students served by the APS Community Clothing Bank each year are in addition to the thousands served by the Assistance League and the organizations work hard to ensure they are never duplicating each other’s work.
Impact of the Program:
Chronic absenteeism is one of the strongest predictors of school failure researchers have seen. Students who miss more than two days of school a month, or about 10% of the year, are more likely not to read on grade level. Many times, chronic absenteeism is related to a lack of appropriate school clothing. If a child doesn’t have a warm winter coat on a cold day, he or she most likely won’t show up at school. A teenager embarrassed about wearing yesterday’s dirty clothes or last year’s too-small shoes faces just one more barrier to overcome. If funded by the United Way, the Clothing Bank will help Albuquerque reduce chronic absenteeism and have more students in school ready to learn each day.