As some of you know my company, Indigo Magic was a recent Merrimack Valley Sandbox Winter Accelerator winner in February. Here ,17 finalists gathered for 3 months in a grant program that helped us all accelerate our businesses. At the first class, I sat down next to Mickey Cockrell, the Executive Director of Catie’s Closet, a non-profit organization who provides in school closets filled with clothing and toiletries for homeless children. If you know Mickey, you know that she has a heart as big as the moon and the corporate retail background to move every mountain on the planet. Never have I ever been more inspired by the presence of another like I am with Mickey, which is why I am so proud to call her my colleague and friend.
Catie’s Closet has been a closet of hope for thousands of homeless students wanting to get an education, be like others and simply wanting to fit in. Imagine if your child didn’t have a winter coat ,or had frostbitten toes because they had holes in the bottoms of their shoes when they walked to school?
As a family, Mickey and her sisters became aware of the plight of homeless students in a local newspaper article in 2009. Her niece Catie, was a recent graduate of Lowell High and she confirmed that there were many kids who were struggling and they just wanted to fit in and feel like everyone else. Catie was passionate about education and wanted everyone to have the same chance regardless of circumstances. She had battled a life long illness and as a result endured 40 surgeries but never viewed it as an obstacle to achieving her dreams. Catie was pursuing a degree in education when she passed away in March of 2010. As a tribute to Catie and to carry on her mission, Mickey’s family wanted to help students in a big way.
Catie’s Closet was started as a single location in May 2010 at Lowell High School. Mickey had seriously thought it would just be a family project so they worked collecting clothing in their parent’s basement to stock the closet. When word got out, many schools started calling them to open up a closet in their school. They became a 501c3 in May 2011 and began opening more schools. In under 3 years, they are now painfully aware of how big of need is and always have a waiting list of schools needing a Catie’s Closet. They would like to continue to meet those needs as fast as possible.
It is hard to believe but the Massachusetts statistics don’t lie. Currently, there are 49,000 homeless students registered in Massachusetts Public Schools. In the U.S. there are over 1.1 million homeless children with the average age being just 8 years old. Children living in poverty adds another 15 million in the U.S. and 213,000 in Massachusetts.
Mickey’s prior work experience has enabled the non-profit to be able to handle the workload that opening closets, running their distribution center and taking inventory demands. She has over 30 years in the retail industry, most recently as a Vice President DM for Kohl’s. She is a leader in buying, marketing, store operations, logistics, human resources and new store processes. Here experience has prepared her to grow Catie’s Closet to the next level.
Currently, Catie’s Closets are operating in 20 schools with 16 in Lowell and 4 in New Hampshire. When a school requests a closet, the organization works with the school administration to find the best location within the school. They need a minimum of 150 sq ft in an elementary school and 200 sq ft in a high school. A team of people build out the closets and they stock it with items that come directly from the distribution center, which is located in Dracut at 19 School St. They accept boys and girls clothing in Youth sizes 4-20, teen girls sizes 0-17 and Boys Sizes 20-42 as well as corresponding XS to XXL size tops. Following health guidelines, they only accept new socks, underwear and full size toiletries. It costs $4,450 to construct and open a closet. They look for sponsors to help them open each one. Their short-term goals are to meet the needs statewide and then work on a strategy for a nationwide rollout.
How can you as a community or individual get involved? Catie’s Closet loves drives! Drives are usually hosted by schools, churches, universities, even families. If you think your community schools need to open a closet, host a drive or you just want to learn how you can get involved, please email Mickey at: email@example.com or go to www.catiescloset.org/donate