For Carolyn Wink, the Champions Closet at Carthage High School is personal.
“People sometimes need help, and they don’t want to ask for help because of pride or they don’t want to be embarrassed,” Wink said. “We wanted to make a place where people could come and everything is confidential, so our kids don’t deal with other students. They deal only with adults. For a brief period of time in my life when my parents divorced and I lived with my mom, I was one of those kids. I did not have clean clothes; I did not have lunches some days. I did not have the things that I really needed to make me confident, and I feel like if kids have the things that they need to get started for the day, it just makes everything so much better.”
Carthage ISD started a clothes closet this year to help students in the district who need clothes and more. Wink, who started the closet, said they had one at the previous school her husband Superintendent John Wink worked, and she saw the same kind of need in Carthage.
The closet started in April, and its original purpose was just to help students if they needed an outfit for formal events such as prom or the eighth grade dance. In May they expanded it to a general clothes closet, Carolyn Wink said, and they worked all summer to get it prepared to officially open in the last week of July. She said they’ve helped more than 60 students from across the district so far.
“We started out just doing junior high and high school,” she said. “We’ve had some requests for kids in primary and elementary and Baker Koonce, and we have not turned anybody down. We did the Christmas wishes for the kids that wanted new clothes for Christmas, and so we helped 18 kids through that, and five of those kids were students at BK.”
Wink said they have all kinds of stuff in the closet, including dress clothes, all types of shoes, hoodies, sweaters, t-shirts, brand new underwear and brand new socks. They also have perfume, cologne, make-up bags and backpacks as well as hygiene products — toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, deodorant and feminine hygiene products.
Any item they get from the closet is the student’s to keep, Wink said. In addition, organizers are also starting a formalwear room, and those items will be on loan to the students for the week of the event for which they need it.
The name of the closet is intentional, Wink said.
“We are raising champions, and every kid has the ability to be a champion, they just need to see it in themselves, and sometimes it takes a little push from somebody,” Wink said. “It doesn’t meant that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be, it just means that we are pouring an investment into these kids. We are showing them that somebody loves them, that somebody cares about them.
“And they have that in their life, but sometimes people need help, and so there’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s just part of life, and that’s why we started it. We want to help people that need it.”
Carthage is about 50 percent economically disadvantaged, Wink said, meaning one out of every two kids falls into that slot.
“When you have your kids ready for the first day of school and they’re so excited, saying ‘I’ve got my brand new tennis shoes, and I’ve got my brand new jeans, and I’ve got my brand new pretty shirt’ or whatever, and you’re one of the kids that doesn’t have anything new, and you have holes in your shoes, it’s not a good feeling,” she said. “Like I said, I was one of those kids for three years. And so we wanted every kid to have something new to wear.”
The closet wouldn’t be possible without the help of all the volunteers, Wink said.
“It has taken every single volunteer to make it work,” Wink said. “If it was just me saying this is a good idea and we need to make this happen, it wouldn’t have happened with just me. It takes everybody working together and contributing.”
Updates on the Champions Closet can be found in its Facebook group, which can be found by searching on Facebook for “Champions Closet.” The closet has a dedicated cell phone line, and anybody who wants to help out or to receive aid can text that number at (903) 806-1229.
Wink advised those interested in helping with it to watch the page, because at times they limit donations to certain items. Students or parents of students who would like to make use of the closet can also reach out to their principal, assistant principal or school counselor.