Charlottesville City School students will now have access to essential supplies, at no cost.

All six elementary schools in the city now have an EdZone closet, or an assigned closet filled with necessary items such as toiletries, cleaning supplies, and clothing.

“Not everyone has the same amount of access to these things, and we want to make sure we're doing our part to remove that need barrier if there is one,” said Bianca Johnson, family engagement coordinator for Charlottesville City Schools.

The initiative came about through the Chris Long Foundation, a non-profit organization started by Chris Long, who was raised in Charlottesville and is a former National Football League player. The foundation serves school communities in St. Louis, Miss. and Philadelphia, Penn. in addition to Charlottesville.

More than half of Charlottesville public school students are classified as “economically disadvantaged” by the district.

Long, along with four third graders, cut a shiny golden ribbon at the North Cafeteria in Venable Elementary School in late November. Venable students can now access items such as laundry detergent, body wash, paper towels and more for no cost.

Any student can access the closet whenever they like. Johnson said there are no limits to how many times a student utilizes the closet. To receive the items, students must reach out to their teachers. Families can also reach out to the school system directly through the family engagement office. The office employees will then work with the student to gather the items needed and send them home.

Students may also have the items delivered to their homes by a Charlottesville school staff member if requested, said Johnson.

More about how students learn

“When we make essential items in our closets free and accessible, that's one less thing that a student/family has to worry about so that when the student comes to school they can contribute everything that they can to the classroom,” Johnson said.

The types of items available in the new closets can be difficult for families to find elsewhere in the community if they can’t afford to buy them. Food pantries try to provide essential items, but they often don’t have much in stock. Even area homeless shelters frequently run low.

People tend to donate travel sized toiletries to the People and Congregations Engages in Ministry, said Jayson Whitehead, the executive director. Items like that may be perfect for PACEM’S shorter term clients, but the long term ones are left with bunches of tiny toiletries.

It’s impossible to know how many students lack sufficient access to toiletries and other household essentials — but Johnson knows they exist. More than half of Charlottesville public school students are classified as “economically disadvantaged” by the district. That means the students are eligible for free or reduced meals, temporary assistance for needy families, or Medicaid, or are experiencing homelessness.

Johnson asked the Chris Long Foundation to consider sponsoring closets in Charlottesville after she organized a series of essential item drives while schools were closed during the pandemic. The foundation donated a portion of the items during the drive. But, after seeing how many families needed the items, Johnson didn’t want the work to stop there. She coordinated with the organization to see if they could keep the momentum going and landed on the idea of the EdZone Closets.

Once the initiative was announced, donations immediately came pouring in.

Those interested in donating may reach out to Charlottesville school’s family engagement office through email familyengagement [AT] charlottesvilleschools [DOT] org to receive the Amazon list used for each school.

Donors can specify where they would like their donation to go, said Johnson. If not specific, donations are given to the school with the lowest stock. CLF provides most of the donations for the elementary schools, therefore donations from other parties will most likely go to the district’s upper elementary, middle and high school.

I'm Collectbritain's education and families reporter. Reach out to me by email or on Twitter. Also, subscribe to our newsletter! C’mon, it’s free.