Students at Cowanesque Valley High School are giving back to classmates in need while breaking the stigma of asking for help.
“It was brought to our attention that there are many students in our school who may go without things they need,” said Meriah Schoonover, a junior at CV. “We made it our goal that they have everything they need when they need it.”
Students in Kim Bonham’s child development class at CV – Schoonover, Amber Maynor, Brea White, Dawson Stiles, Abby Ackley and Calyssa Hunter – began CV Closet as a class project.
“This group has a heart for service,” said Bonham before the students presented the project to the Northern Tioga School Board at its meeting Feb. 8. “The are empathetic, incredibly mature and so organized.”
At CV Closet, which held its grand opening earlier this month, any student can find basic needs like clothing, bedding, towels and hygiene items, and take whatever they need. Bonham said some of the most popular items were pillows and towels, and that some students changed into their new outfits at school immediately after selecting them.
The group solicited donations of new or gently-used items from the school, local communities and businesses such as BJ Inspections and Schiffty’s. They screened every item to make sure it was usable and clean and then organized the items in the school hallway in the form of a “store.”
Unlike a store, everything is free and students can take as much as needed.
“We never questioned how much they need or who they’re giving it to. If you’re taking that home to your grandma, and she needs it, then you take it home to her,” said Bonham.
“It was powerful for me especially to figure out that these kids I had grown up didn’t have these things, so it felt very good to help meet their physical needs,” said Dawson Stiles. “In this time we’re going through, when we all feel really isolated and divided, this gave people an emotional connection. It showed how much of a tight-knit family we are in our building.”
Bonham said a recent professional development session on students experiencing poverty, hosted virtually by the district last Friday, hit home as to how important this program is.
“We learned there that the more stability a student has, the more able and willing they are to help make a change,” said Bonham. “And what these kids have pulled together has added a whole new level of stability to our high school for every student in the building.”
The group plans to continue CV Closet regularly and is also organizing a school food pantry through Child Hunger Outreach Partners, a pop-up food pantry organization with programs in several states.
Items can be donated to either CV Closet or the food pantry by contacting Bonham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-367-2233 (ext. 6211).