‘Comfort Closets’ come to 27 Prince George’s County schools

For decades, teachers and other staff members at schools around the country have dipped into their own pockets to help families who needed a boost.

The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated that, to the point that schools started giving meals out not just during school, but sometimes after and even in the summer. Now, what are called Comfort Closets aim to take things even farther: A new Comfort Closet at Apple Grove Elementary School in Oxon Hill, Maryland, was dedicated Thursday.

It’s one of 27 schools hosting the “closets,” which are really big rooms full of all sorts of things, from clothing to cleaning supplies to toiletries — even diapers and feminine hygiene products.

It’s all free, no questions asked.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for Comfort Closet on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. (WTOP/John Domen)

“We have a lot of families who bring their children to school every day,” said Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson. “We know that time is limited so they can come here, get what they need, and still go to work and come back and feel comforted in knowing that their children have been taken care of all day.”

When schools returned full time in 2021, “We found so many teachers would have to give our students basic resources,” since so many parents were struggling with job loss or cuts to their household income, said Apple Grove Elementary School Principal Shaneena Holland. “We as a school community were providing these things.”

Now, a donation from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, which was founded at Howard University and is celebrating a conference at nearby National Harbor, as well as GEICO, helps alleviate some of that.

“It runs the gamut from just your everyday essentials, from the diapers, to the cleaning supplies, to other clothes,” said DST national president Elsie Cooke-Holmes. “Those things, those essentials, if you will, that everyone needs but everyone isn’t always able to find. This is critical.”

The 27 schools hosting these closets are considered community schools, and Holland said hers is one where a little closet like this — actually a small room — will be a big help.

“A school is defined to me as a second home,” said Holland. “When you’re in your home, you have all your needs. Here at this home, when our students come to their Apple Grove home, they’ll be able to have their needs met.”

Having things for adults too, coming with no questions asked, is also a big deal.

“If our parents have resources then they’re less stressed, and then that stress is not transferred to our students,” said Holland. Now: “If you need it, you have it.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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