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Mom and Daughter Volunteers Open 'Closet' to Everyone

A weekly clothing drive at Boyd W. Arthurs Middle School provides clothes to local students, expecting mothers and people recently released from jail.

Arthurs Closet started with one rack in a small athletic room at .

Five years later, the Closet is bursting out of what used to be the main office and principal's office.

Volunteers Rhonda Baker, 47, and daughter Eryn Baker, 21, spend each Tuesday sorting, folding and hanging clothes that pour in from outlets all over Trenton.

"When I started, it was upstairs in a little room and after I did my copies for the teachers and the laminating I would go straighten that up and then it started (everything)," Rhonda said.

Rhonda is a part-time employee of the who told her daughter, "If she isn't working, she can volunteer."

There are typically over a dozen bags sitting outside the Closet's front door each Tuesday morning. And, promptly at 8:15 a.m., Rhonda and Eryn begin the arduous process of sorting through hundreds of articles of clothing and footwear.

"What else would we do on a Tuesday?"

"Usually, Eryn will straighten up out there (previous main office) and see what we need replacing, and then I take and I sort the bags," Rhonda said.

A large portion of clothing comes from in Trenton, where a would-be Eagle Scout decided to build a receptacle where anyone could drop off old clothes and shoes. Louis Scola, 16, took on the project in 2010 and was the driving force in making the Closet what it is today.

Arthurs Middle School counselor Tracey Kersten plays an important role in getting students and community members clothing, while keeping them anonymous.

Kersten works as a discreet liaison between the Closet and those in need. She said she keeps the names of students asking for clothes private to avoid potential teasing or embarrassment.

Recently, Kersten was approached by a student who said he wanted, "some of the cool shirts other kids are wearing" and by the end of the day she was loading a pile of designer hoodies and T-shirts into the back of the student's parents' car—after school.

"One student needed a pair of boots, and she received her first pair of Ugg boots from Arthurs (Closet) as well as a North Face coat," Kersten said.

She added the Uggs were the first pair of boots the girl had ever owned.

Students aren't the only members of the community who frequent the Closet. Kersten said men recently released from jail and homeless people come to the Closet.

"Shoppers," as Kersten calls them, are always accompanied by a caseworker and don't visit the Closet during school hours.

"These are men that are recently released from jail and trying to get back into society," Kersten said. "They come to get clothing."

Rhonda and Eryn often help expecting mothers pick out clothes for their babies and for themselves.

Rhonda said she began volunteering for Arthurs Closet when Eryn was in high school and just never left.

"What else would we do on a Tuesday," Eryn said.

Eryn was recently accepted into an exclusive art program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She is about to graduate from Henry Ford Community College and plans to further her education in art and film as a Wolverine.

Rhonda said she stays because it makes her feel good to be helping out the community and because if not for her and Eryn—Arthurs Closet might be forced to close.

"Who else would come in here and do this—nobody," Rhonda said.

The Closet does have one other volunteer, a senior citizen who works Mondays and Wednesdays, but Rhonda said it might be too difficult for her to handle the full responsibility by herself.

If Rhonda isn't available on Tuesday, she comes in on a different day of the week in order to keep the Closet going.

Whether it's Tuesday—or any other day of the week—Rhonda and Eryn spend several hours per day helping students fit in, former prisoners reconnect with the world and would-be mothers clothe their infant children. And, they do it for free.

Nate Stemen (Editor) May 04, 2012 at 02:37 PM
How has Arthurs Closet helped you or someone you know?
michelle May 04, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Thank you for sharing more information. My son is a student at AMS and I had seen a little about the "closet". I always wanted to know more. I work M-F 9-5 but if they need a hand during the hours I'm free, I would love to help. I can help after work or on a weekend, if they have any special needs/projects.
Janet Miller May 05, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Please let Rhonda and Eryn know that I am available every Tuesday to assist them in their efforts. Thank you. Janet Miller
Elida Southlea May 05, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Is the best way to get a donation to "The Closet" by leaving it at Saint James Lutheran Church and marking it for "The Closet"? Thank you. E. Southlea
Elida Southlea May 05, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Sorry I mean Saint Pauls Lutheran Church. Thanks. E.Southlea
T Kersten May 05, 2012 at 11:04 PM
There is a drop box in the parking lot of St. Paul Lutheran near the Nichols Drive entrance. Thank you!
Rhonda Baker May 08, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Janet, If you would like to stop in on Tuesday morning will gladly accept the help. Thank You!

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