A few days ago, my friend Tini Kastis invited me to join a Facebook Group called The Care Closet.

Tini is a local attorney. She’s involved in the community and has a vibrant, colorful personality so when I got the invite, I knew it would be something worthwhile.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Care Closet (at least the Facebook group) was created in November. The page’s admin is Tara Reilly O’Neal, a German and world history teacher at Rome High School.

She said that, last year, a space was designated in the school’s front office to keep food and clothing items for students who needed them.

“But about two weeks ago I went by there and there was hardly anything in it,” Tara said. “There were no warm weather clothes. I thought we really need to help these kids. They hang out waiting for the bus and it’s cold and some have one hoodie they wear every single day.”

So she created the Facebook group to collect clothes, food and hygiene products. Donations are given to the Rome High School Care Closet — a place where students can go PRIVATELY to get some of those items that they need but may be afraid or ashamed to be seen accepting “charity.”

In a heart-felt post, Tara let group members know just how dire the need was:

“I’ve noticed many teens at my school are freezing right now. Many wait for the bus on cold mornings with no warm clothes. They often wear the same thing everyday, and they often wear things dirty. If you have any gently used hoodies, fleece’s etc., or would be willing to purchase new hoodies or outerwear, I would love to pick them up and distribute them. Please consider items that teens would actually wear. I see a need for lots of plus size hoodies as well.”

So far the group has about 155 members and in the couple weeks it’s been up, and from the looks of it, folks were quick to respond to Tara’s plea for help.

Immediately, community members such as David and Karen Smith, Charlotte Millard, Hogan Barris, Devon Smyth and Lisa Faircloth donated. They were soon joined by Russell Wallace, Briana Lawrence, Tina Brinson, Emily Strickland and then a host of locals too numerous to name.

I mention these people’s names because I think it’s important to acknowledge folks who give back to their community without SEEKING any thanks. Many of them aren’t even affiliated with Rome High School (where the donations will have the most impact). They simply want to give. And I only know about their generosity because the page’s administrator thanked them publicly.

Donations started coming in, and people even offered to buy new items to donate. I was very impressed reading some of the posts in the group:

“I will have something. I recently cleaned out our coat closet but I think this is an amazing cause and will be happy to donate.”

“It said plus sizes are needed. I’ll order a few from Amazon and have for you this week.”

“I’ve got an amazon shipment coming today & tomorrow with hoodies & jackets.”

“I put 4 bags of coats and hoodies...men’s and women’s...in the extra room 2 doors down from Amanda’s this morning.”

As people started commenting and offering to help, the closet seemed to grow. People have been offering not only hoodies and coats but jeans and shoes as well. The group even got some help from Owens Hardware with athletic pants and Dri-FIT shirts

On Monday, Tara posted photos of the closet before and after donations were sent in. It was amazing to see how, in such a short time, the closet was filled with all sorts of warm clothes and shoes.

But there’s still more that’s needed. Remember, there are lots of students out there whose families can’t afford new warm clothes or new toiletries — even simple things we may take for granted.

Tara said toiletries are running low. They need things like lotion. The need smaller sizes of clothes for girls, particularly smalls and extra-smalls in all types of clothing. They need long-sleeve shirts and skinny jeans, things that teens would wear.

“We appreciate all donations,” Tara said. “A lot of our stuff is gently used but it would be wonderful if we also had brand new items. High school is tough for these kids. They want to look good. They want to fit in. It would be great if we could get them clothes that gave them some confidence and made them feel good about themselves.”

If you’d like to help, the first thing you can do is join the group. It’s called The Care Closet. There might be other similarly named groups, so make sure you’re joining the one based in Rome. After joining the group, you can keep up with what folks are donating and let others know of items you have to donate.

There’s also Paypal and Venmo account information on the page if you’d simply like to donate money. People have also been ordering items online and having them shipped to Tara at Rome High School.

Black Friday deals are just around the corner. That’s a great opportunity to get items to donate.

It’s so great to see so many people from across the community pitching in. Tara said she’s gotten great support from the Rome High community and even former students. But there are lots of folks donating who aren’t even affiliated with the school. Many of the donations have come from parents at St. Mary’s School, where Tara said she just got an entire trunk-load of items.

I know this particular closet benefits the students at Rome High, but if you know of similar projects at other local schools, please encourage others to donate to those as well.

I know it’s the time of year when we think about our own families and we get caught up in the commercialization of the holidays, but we live in a community where folks look out for one another.

Keep it up, Rome.

Severo Avila is Features Editor for the Rome News-Tribune.

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