Stocking the closet for teens in need

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 24, 2013 - 9:16 AM

After the death of her son Kody, a Crystal mom decided to help needy kids by filling closets with toiletry items in schools.

When Colleen Thorn’s 18-year-old son, Kody, died in November 2012, she knew she had to do something to honor his memory.

She remembered him as a “giving soul and just a happy person” who had many friends from all walks of life. When his less fortunate friends came over, Kody told them they could take what they needed from his mom’s closet, which was filled with toiletries, from toothbrushes to body wash.

As a self-described “extreme couponer,” Thorn kept the closet stocked. Having the products made the kids feel a bit better about themselves, she and Kody observed.

After Kody, a 2012 Robbinsdale Armstrong High School graduate, died of a drug overdose, Thorn couldn’t stop thinking about the needs of kids like Kody’s friends.

“After he passed, I just thought, ‘What about all these other kids that do not have the means … and they just can’t afford the little things?’” she said.

With that, the idea for the nonprofit Kody’s Closet was born.

Now, there are closets in 13 Minnesota schools, including the first, located at Robbinsdale Armstrong. Last month, Burnsville High School added a closet, and there’s a waiting list of 20 schools that want one, Thorn said.

The closets are actually cabinets, filled with everything from deodorant to lotion, toothpaste to tampons. There are even socks and hair binders, all for students who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

Each closet, located in a nurse’s or counselor’s office, comes stocked with $4,000 worth of products. When supplies run low, Thorn replaces the missing items.

It’s important that kids can access the closets discreetly, said Ariana LaVallee, a family support worker with 360 Communities based at Burnsville High School.

“When I was contacted about Kody’s Closet, I was really excited because it’s another resource I can offer the families and students that I work with,” she said.

An unmet need

When Thorn first approached Robbinsdale Armstrong last March, she asked whether students were actually in need of toiletries. The counselor said, “Oh my gosh, you do not believe the need,” Thorn recalled.

For struggling families, after paying for rent and bills, the items “are like the last thing on their list,” Thorn said.

Teachers have told Thorn about students who won’t raise their hand because they’re not wearing deodorant, or kids who are bullied for having greasy hair.

“My thought is, it’s a simple, everyday need that we often take for granted or overlook,” said LaVallee. “But it … can make such a difference in their everyday lives.”

Being clean, along with looking and smelling good, is important to teens, and it also affects their self-esteem. That’s the nonprofit’s larger goal, Thorn said.

After her first one was successful, Thorn — with the help of her husband, Shane, and six friends — has since set up closets in two elementary schools and Edison High School in Minneapolis, Richfield High School and Robbinsdale Middle School, among others.

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