Students at community colleges often face a variety of challenges. From balancing work life, school life and family life to weathering financial hardships and covering living expenses, many students are one unplanned hurdle away from not being able to finish their degree. Campus resources that offer students academic or nonacademic lifelines can be the extra boost they need to make it through the week, the month, the year or all the way to graduation. Recently, Normandale Community College offered its students one such lifeline that showed how much their school and community cares about one another.
According to a recent survey of 2,100 community college students, paying expenses was one of their top challenges. For many students having the money to cover their living expenses, textbooks, tuition and childcare isn’t a guarantee. Normandale Community College’s Student Resource Center Coordinator and AmeriCorps VISTA Amy Soeun developed an idea that offers students some financial relief in an unexpected area: the Normandale Community College Pop-up Clothing Closet.
“My role is to increase students’ access to resources and services. I target their nonacademic needs for things related to food, housing, healthcare, clothing, etc. We developed this programming because we thought it could help students. I met with student clubs and asked for their input. They really responded to the clothing swap idea. So, I ran with it and tested it out,” Soeun said. “In March, I held our first clothing swap event. It was a one-day event where students could pick up free clothes. I collected clothing donations leading up to the event and during that day from our campus community. Students came in and picked out clothes they wanted. They also brought in the clothes they no longer wore, but that wasn’t a requirement. Chris Peterson, our campus store manager, really liked the idea. He had some thoughts on how we could make it more accessible to students. At the end of April through the beginning of May, the student resource center partnered with the campus store to host a weeklong free clothing event in the space provided by the campus store. This gave students more time to come in and shop for free clothes.”
For the pop-up clothing closet event, they were able to use the clothes that were not claimed during the March clothing swap while also collecting more donations from faculty, staff and students. Once the event dates were set, organizers began raising student awareness on campus, spreading the word through email, posters, and word of mouth.
The clothing closet displayed hundreds of clothing items, including t-shirts, jeans, dresses, children’s clothes, shoes, accessories and more.
“At the pop-up clothing closet, the clothes were displayed just like they would be in the store. Students could walk in and start shopping. We had a limit of 20-30 items per student each day, but we weren’t very strict about adhering to the rule because really we had a ton of donations,” Soeun said. “After students finished shopping, they would stop at our little checkout table. The student volunteers would take their student information and record approximately how many clothing items they selected. After that, the clothing was bagged, and the students were on their way.”
By providing a wide range of clothing options in a location that was highly visible to students, they were better able to serve their entire student population, including those with families. The clothing closet was a four-day event, and it was estimated that 100 students stopped by each day. During the event, they distributed 1,176 items to students.
“Students were very grateful to have all of these clothes that they could take for free. A lot of students came multiple days during the week because our inventory was constantly changing as new donations came in,” Soeun said. “We saw students come in who really needed a service like this because they don’t have extra money to spend on clothes for themselves or their families. All the students were excited to have this event on campus.”
More than that though, the clothing closet demonstrated the importance of the campus community. Faculty, staff and students all came together to have a positive impact of each other’s lives in a way that will not be soon forgotten.
“Most of the clothes that were donated came from faculty and staff members. It was a way for them to contribute to students. Students donated as well. But, I think the event showed the students that the faculty and staff are here to help them and that our school really does care about them and wants to help where we can,” Soeun said. “Based off of the positive responses from our students we are hoping to continue this type of event throughout the year.”