Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The CARE Closet Moves into NKY



The CARE Closet moves in to help NKY children in need

A recipient of a donated bed helps move it into his room (provided)

by Colin Moore

It’s only been four months since Fort Thomas resident Carol Weinel last spoke to Fort Thomas Matters, and yet in that time she has achieved more than most people could in years. She has brought the CARE Closet to Northern Kentucky, providing clothes and other items for homeless children who have nothing. She’s found premises, outgrown them and found more. She’s registered the Closet as a non-profit, so all donations are tax deductible, run a successful pre-prom pampering session for disadvantaged teens and helped over 100 children in Northern Kentucky!

Previously Carol had mainly volunteered with the Closet in Oyler School in Lower Price Hill but seeing the donations build up and knowing that there are needy children much closer to home, she decided to bring the idea to Northern Kentucky. “We had so much stuff and I thought, what can we do in our backyard?” A Fort Thomas resident for almost 30 years, Carol knows only too well of the poverty that lives far too close to our own doorsteps.

“This is happening in our own backyard, 5 minutes from our homes. There is such a disparity in Campbell County, from million dollar houses to over 500 people who are homeless. These are kids that our kids play sports with, or play sports against and they have nothing.”

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Initially the CARE closet was based in Dayton, at the school board building, but quickly as the bags began to pile up on Carol’s doorstep, she realized they would need bigger premises. Carol and Linda Slone went to local businessman David Hosea, who was happy to give them space in one of his buildings in Newport. “He’s been so generous and has even offered to paint our rooms for us.” At their previous premises, space was at a premium, but now they have room to store items until they find the person who needs it most. “Often when people might decide they want to donate large items like beds, they want us to take them out of their house immediately. Before this was a problem, unless we knew someone needed it immediately. Now we can take the donation and store it until we find someone who needs it.”


Linda Slone, David Hosea and Carol Weinel (provided)

Another advantage of their new home, is that David Hosea hopes to place other non-profits in the same building, along with ones who are already there, such as  Mentoring Plus, who also work with at risk teens in Northern Kentucky. This lets all the non-profits work together and share best practise in areas they have in common.

The Closet provides underprivileged school kids with clothes and shoes but lets them shop for their own. Often when they’ve received clothes in the past they may have been handed a bundle, without ever being asked if they liked them or would want to wear them. Carol’s way allows many children to pick their own outfits for the first time. The kids who they assist are identified by the school district, who have resource directors and homeless coordinators to help oversee support for these children. Karen Allen, a volunteer, and a member of Fort Thomas School Board says “Schools can only do so much. The Care Closet provides that additional assistance to help a child in need at home.”  Carol says that when the kids first come in to the Closet:

“Their faces light up. They might be told they can pick two tops, two pairs of pants and a pair of shoes but instead of being handed them, they can pick them out for themselves. These are kids who may never have shopped before, it gives them a real sense of dignity.”

Their new space is allowing Carol to roll out a travelling Closet, which will
visit 5 elementary schools in Campbell County. “We bring the clothes to the school, put them on racks and the kids can pick as if they were in a normal shop.”

As well as providing clothes, since moving a few months ago the Closet has provided 15 children who had been sleeping on the floor with their own beds. This showed Karen Allen the true importance of the closet:

"I was hooked the moment I saw an 8 year old boy climb into a bed that we provided. To see the joy on his face as he curled up under the covers and laid his head on a pillow was priceless. That look and the hug I received made me realize how important the work of the closet is."

Carol is particularly proud that they collect and distribute books to all of the children, who often struggle with literacy and may never have owned a book before. They also collect and distribute personal hygiene items such as toothpaste, deodorant and tampons and pads. School supplies are also handed out to children who need them.

Their pre-prom pampering event in Dayton in May brought together professional make up artists, hair stylists and nail technicians to spoil 15 local girls before prom. They had lunch, a candy bar and picked out jewellery to wear to prom and even provided dresses for some girls who didn’t have their own.

Carol is constantly blown away by the generosity of our community in supporting the Closet’s efforts. “It’s nothing for me to come home and see ten bags of clothes on my doorstep and when I do it’s like Christmas for me because I know every one represents a child who needs them.” She recognizes the support given by local people:

The community has overwhelmed me with their generosity: the abundance of donations is incredible, the generosity of the community is incredible. Some people buy new clothes for their children each season which means some of the donations we hand out are barely worn.”

The Closet is now a fully fledged non-profit, which means they were able to take their first cash donation recently, from the Moms’ Club of Fort Thomas. Cash donations allow the Closet to buy items which they need that can’t be second hand, such as a bra for a high school girl or some personal hygiene items.

What makes Carol and the Closet so unique is that they have no employees, so 100% of what they take is given out to the children. They also re-purpose donations which are not suitable for them by handing it out to other local charities. Men’s clothes are given to homeless veterans, baby clothes and toys go to a local non-profit which works with teenage mothers, they even managed to hand a batch of yoga pants and exercise clothes to Samantha Reynolds, who runs a free dance class for underprivileged girls. While they are stringent about the quality of clothes which end up in the Closet (Nothing with holes or stains, Carol says “If I wouldn’t put it on my kids, I wouldn’t expect them to wear it.”) those that don’t meet the standard are given to Matthew 25: Ministries, who ship them to children in Africa and other areas overseas. They truly waste nothing that they are given.
Linda Sloan, Carol Weinel, Karen Allen and Lonnie Slone (provided)

Carol is quick to point out that this is not a one woman show. Many other people volunteer, such as Linda Sloan and her husband Lonnie, who among other things pick up large items in their truck, and Karen Allen. They also have a junior board, consisting of one boy and one girl, who help by promoting the CARE Closet in school and on social media. In fact when they relocated, 4 members of the Highlands football team and some drama students spent the day helping with the move. Linda says:

“When Carol called me to ask if I would help her with the Care Closet, I knew this would be my new mission in life.  She had such a vision to help families in need.  It is so exciting to have so many people who are so willing to donate!!  I have always felt people want to help but just don't always know how.  Our community, friends and family have shown us a huge amount of support!”

Volunteer Lonnie Slone had a similar childhood to many of the children the Closet helps now. He often reflects on the child that he was back then: "Even though I know his story, it still makes me cry to know how he grew up. I am so proud of the man he has turned into today! It's sad to know that there are so many children who have to grow up this way still today."




HHS students Spencer Manyet, JT Merkle, Luke Mayer and Sam Sparks help Lonnie Slone with the move (provided)


Despite the help Carol guesses she spend 10 hours a week working on the closet on top of her day job as the Vision Screening Coordinator for the Abrahamson Pediatric Eye Institute at Cincinnati Children’s. Carol’s children have grown up and flown the nest, so she puts an awe-inspiring amount of effort and spare time into the Closet, although she does manage to find time for her 6 week old granddaughter, Lilly. Carol still feels she is lucky to be able to help:

“I get more than I give. Those bags on the porch represent a child who doesn’t have anything. I want them to have everything my own kids had. The poverty that they are living in is not acceptable at all.”


Donated mattresses awaiting distribution to those in need (provided)
Carol isn’t sure what the future holds for the Closet other than keeping doing what they’re great at: helping local kids who really need it. “I initially thought the closet was a little side thing, the rate it’s growing that is incredible. It’s so addictive. If you had told me that on a matter of months we would have non-profit status, a tax I.D., a PO Box address, that we would have already outgrown one location and moved to another I wouldn’t have believed it in my wildest dreams. It’s been crazy.”

Despite its overwhelming success the closet still needs more help from the local community to keep supporting local children. Donations of personal hygiene items, children’s books, school supplies, large items such as beds and bedding and, of course, clothes in all sizes are gratefully accepted. They still need volunteers to help sort the overwhelming number of donations that they have already received into sex, size, season etc. Now that they have their own premises with their own keys they are excited to be able to accommodate volunteers during evenings and at the weekends which wasn’t possible before. Cash donations are also welcome and are 100% tax deductible due to the Closet’s non-profit status.


For more information on how to donate or volunteer please contact Carol at careclosetnky@gmail.com or on Facebook at The CARE Closet

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