TENNERTON – A local shoe store put its best foot forward Sunday by raising over $3,000 to stock the Comfort Closets of three Upshur County Schools.
Shoe Sensation store manager Genevia Jenkins said each Shoe Sensation location is encouraged to choose a fundraiser in their community, and she chose the Upshur County Comfort Closet this year – and plans to do so in the future. Comfort Closets are stockpiles of essential clothing, toiletries and other apparel students may select from during the school day based on their needs or if some kind of accident or damage to clothing occurs.
Jenkins said it was especially rewarding to give back to the community, given that she and other Shoe Sensation employees see the need for basic necessities directly and up close on a daily basis.
“We raised $3,000 from donations – customers and employees – and of course, all of the employees used our discount on our purchases, so we got really good deals, and we were able to get a lot, so we’re just really pleased that we could do this for the community,” Jenkins said. “Being a shoe store, we see firsthand the needs in the community, and this is definitely something that we’ll do for back-to-school every year.”
Counselors from Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, Buckhannon-Upshur High School and Tennerton Elementary School were invited to choose which items they needed for their respective closets over the weekend at a donation Sunday, Aug. 1. Tennerton Elementary School counselor Suzanne Bohman said it feels good to be a go-to place for students when needs arise, and she appreciates that community businesses and organizations have started chipping in.
“It’s an amazing blessing because the first year we had the Comfort Closet, it was supported by grants, and now we are looking for community partners just like Shoe Sensation to help us to continue the momentum,” Bohman said. “It is fantastic to be able to provide shoes and socks, toiletries and clothes – those are just amazing things to have at our schools – and it’s really cool because the kids can come in anytime they need something, and we have it for them.”
Bohman said the closets afford students the chance to focus on learning because they don’t have to worry about the state of their shoes or other clothing items.
“It just allows them to be able to have what they need,” Bohman explained, “because if you have a kid who’s sitting in class and they’re thinking about how their feet hurt because their shoes don’t fit, or that their feet are wet because their socks are nasty or their feet are cold or whatever it is, and we’re able to meet that need, it’s going help them learn. It’s going to help them to meet their potential.”
Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School counselor Shauna Jones said the most in-demand items in her Comfort Closet are typically athletic shoes, T-shirts, leggings and jeans.
“Every now and then, a girl will want a dress, but for the most part they just want jeans and leggings, and same with the guys. They want athletic shorts and jeans, and they just want to look normal,” Jones said. “I hate that term, but they don’t want something that makes them stick out.”
Jones appreciates the value of the Comfort Closet, given some of her childhood experiences. Being able to simulate a shopping-like experience is key, she said.
“Having grown up poor myself, it’s good to be able to have a ready resource at the school that’s private, and if a student needs something, they come to one of us counselors, and we walk them up,” she said. “They can try on the clothes, see what fits and then leave, and they’re in a time when they feel like everybody’s looking at them anyway, so we just had to make it discreet and make them feel like they’re shopping.”
Buckhannon-Upshur High School counselor Anthony McDaniels said he always makes sure to stock up on socks and shoes for his Comfort Closet. He thinks the need for Comfort Closets this upcoming school year may be more pronounced than ever.
“We haven’t even seen a lot of the kids because learning has been virtual, but we’ve still experienced a need,” he said. “I just feel [Comfort Closets] are going to be even more needed this coming year than any other year because we are coming out of the pandemic, and we’re on the downward slope, but there’s going be that need where people have lost their jobs and COVID has really had a huge effect on our community.”
At his school, the Comfort Closet helps students avoid embarrassment and reduces their anxiety.
“I remember going to high school and ripping your jeans or something, and then you have to call your mom or somebody, and it’s embarrassing,” McDaniels said. “So, we help to reduce that anxiety and those calls home and just take care of the problem right there, on the spot.”
Shoe Sensation employees started placing items in the stockroom for more than a month prior to Sunday’s donation, and Jenkins, the store manager, was surprised by the large quantity of items they gathered.
“We were just really in shock this morning when we came out to present it all and put it all together,” Jenkins said. “We wanted it to be a nice presentation for the counselors, but we were in shock once we put it all out and we saw how much we had accumulated.”
“We cannot thank our customers enough,” she added. “We have an excellent company that believes in giving back to our communities, and that says a lot in the world today, for a company to let us help our communities that we do business in.”