Students help build ‘share closet’ for Bloomington shelter
Store will allow residents to shop donations for free
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Pe o p l e staying at Wheeler Mission Ministries’ shelter will soon be able to get their supplies through a “shopping experience,” thanks in part to efforts by Bloomington Montessori School students.
Students spent class time recently a s s e mb l i n g shelves in the mission’s Center for Women and Children basement on Opportunity Lane. When they’re done, the basement will be transformed into a store, with shelves and clothing racks displaying all the donated items Wheeler guests can claim for free, offering a more dignified experience for Wheeler guests who are experiencing homelessness.
“What is dignity?” Josie Levine, community outreach coordinator for Wheeler Mission, asked a group of Montessori students, as they stood in the center’s basement, surrounded by the donated shelves they would soon be assembling.
Zade Rogers, 12, took a guess, remembering Levine’s recent talk to their class about Wheeler’s mission. “Having your own rights and being able to do things other people can do?”
Exactly right, Levine said. “You guys are providing that dignified experience of ‘I can come in just like I’m shopping.’ ”
The “share store,” or “share closet,” has been a dream of Levine’s for some time. The people who come to Wheeler Mission often do so with very few possessions, and have no resources to get clothes or supplies they need. But digging through a plastic bag in hopes of finding something suitable for a job interview, or just something that fits, “isn’t fun,” Levine said. Being able to browse clothing racks and shelves gives people a little more independence, and a little more dignity.
But sorting all the donations that come into Wheeler Mission, finding a way to display them, and transforming the basement into a welcoming space is a massive undertaking.
That’s where the Montessori students came in. They’re the latest in a line of volunteer groups to help out with the project. They came aboard in September, when the school’s program director, Jessica Davis, heard Wheeler Mission needed a little help and reached out to see what they could do.
Montessori curriculum includes community action projects, getting students to connect what they learn in school with ideas like global citizenship, social responsibility and stewardship. Different age groups tackle different topics. The younger grades typically learn about food insecurity and host a canned food drive. The fourth- through sixthgrade students, who learn together in a multi-age class of 36 kids, are focusing on the topic of homelessness.
Davis said she typically tries to find projects for her students that are hands-on and in-depth. As she and Levine spoke about the Wheeler Center’s needs and volunteer opportunities suitable for the kids, Levine brought up the share closet. If the students liked, she said, they could take responsibility for a portion of the work.
On their workday, a group of six students took a tour of Wheeler Mission’s Center for Women and Children and trooped down to the basement to work on shelves to replace the stacked milk crates.
The shelves came from the Ellettsville library branch and had to be disassembled for transportation, so the students had to put them back together.
Davis plans to bring teams to Wheeler through mid-November to help get the store in working shape by December.
Other students in the fourth- through sixthgrade class are leading a drive to gather winter clothing for the men, women and children who will visit the share store; while others are setting up collection bins, or writing emails to parents explaining the project and asking for donations to bring to the shelter.
“The kids have been working on grid paper for maximum space. It’s been worked into some of their math lessons,” Davis said. In art class, where the students are studying color theory, they’ll make giant canvas murals to hang up in the share store to offer some bright, cheerful decoration.
“A big part of our school is helping children become aware citizens and empowered individuals,” Davis said. Having them do hands-on work at a facility that serves people in the community, and create something that will benefit those people, helps students come to that awareness.