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Amy Evans, principal at St. Isidore Elementary School, said the majority of area teachers are more than willing to use their own expenses to help their students.

Evans said there are students whose families can’t afford to buy enough stationary or clothing for schools, which can lead to them feeling isolated from their classmates.

“I think we have families who still rely on the love and kindness of the community to help their families survive and make ends meet,” she said.

Melanie Knoepfle, a financial consultant at Thrivent Financial, said she has come across teachers who use the out-of-pocket money to purchase granola bars for students who come to school hungry, as well as pencils and notebooks. These different needs highlighted by school staff opened Knoepfle’s eyes to the substantial need for basic necessities and supplies in area schools, which led her to establish Comfort Closets.

Amy Sokol, principal at St. Anthony Elementary School, said Knoepfle reached out to area principals, herself included, to see what different supplies were needed by schools, which resulted in a detailed list of items. 

“It’s going to help families (and students) in a big way,” Sokol said. "I think it's going to be a great thing for everybody."

Sokol said these items can help students excel in schools, as well as establish an equal playing field for all students starting off their school year. 

“It was such a wonderful idea,” she said. 

Knoepfle, along with members of Comfort Closets’ strategic team, began gathering supplies such as pens, pencils, rulers, backpacks, underwear, toothpaste and deodorant, earlier this year. Community members were able to drop off these items at four different locations: Thrivent Financial, 1468 25th Ave.; the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce; Home Real Estate, 311 23rd St. E, and the Colfax County Attorney’s Office in Schuyler.

The team, with the help of volunteers, sorted and packed the donated items last Saturday inside 1C Church Gymnasium into individual tubs to be sent to area elementary schools, such as St. Isidore Elementary School, as well as the school in Schuyler. School commences for many kids in the area next week.

“It has absolutely exceeded my expectations,” Knoepfle said. “The community has been so generous … It has been overwhelming to see the generosity of our community.”

When the items arrived at the schools earlier this week, Evans said she was happy to see the variety of items that were packed into the tubs, noting they will be divided based on the needs of each grade. She said the younger group of students can benefit more with the clothes, socks and underwear because they tend to be messier and could spill food all over their clothing.

“We are constantly reminded of how great our community is and the willingness of everyone in the Columbus area to support education,” Evans said. “It’s good to know students can start their year off with everything they need.”

Evans said she plans to donate the items that are not going to be used at the school to other schools that might have higher needs for those items.

“We are happy to donate back what we don’t have a need for,” she said.

Evans said the donation can help lessen the burdens of teachers, as well as parents. She said she hopes to have a more active presence in the Comfort Closets project in the future by gathering items within the school to help aid the cause.

“We are really grateful for the support of the community,” she said.

Knoepfle said there will be another packing day in the fall for both middle and high schools, noting the dates have yet to be determined.

Community members are still able to drop off their donations at the allocated locations for the upcoming packing event. People who want to learn more about the program are encouraged to reach out to Knoepfle at 402-606-4410 or email her at ColumbusNeoffice@Thrivent.com.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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