Angel's Closet: filled with warmth and love

mvoorhis@sierrastar.comJanuary 21, 2014 

In a small classroom, located on the Yosemite High School campus, there are only a couple of desks, no books, and no classes. One desk is covered with handmade sweater caps and scarves. Underneath the seat, a large paper bag has socks, gloves and neatly-folded t-shirts. A second desk has several prom dresses laying, prior to sorting and hanging, in a carefully-placed pile.

The railing at the top of the chalkboard is used to display shoes. Free-standing racks hold jackets, hooded sweatshirts (hoodies), boys shirts and girls formal dresses. Even empty boxes stacked high in one corner of the room are utilized as makeshift spots to hang a jacket or two.

It's a place many YHS students don't know about yet, but word is spreading fast. Welcome to Angel's Closet — a room specifically designated for "shopping." "As a Christian, God breathed this idea into me and wasn't going to let me off the hook until I did something," said Denise McGuffin, who has worked campus supervision at the school for the past 17 years.

Late winter, McGuffin noticed several Yosemite High students walking around campus in t-shirts during colder weather. They didn't have jackets slung over arms or hoodies tied at the waist.

"Over and over again, I'd ask students where their jacket or hoodie was, and they'd say that they didn't have one ... I just couldn't listen to this anymore," she said.

McGuffin saw the need and came up with a solution, which she believed would be an easy fix. She discussed her idea with YHS Principal Randy Seals, and he quickly jumped on-board.

As a result, a request went out to the community for new or slightly-used hoodies and a box was placed in front of the Mountain Christian Center. Seals notified teachers and other staff, and a small box was placed in the campus library as a drop-off for the confidential names of students in need.

The response was, and continues to be, overwhelming. Bags of clothing are left in front of the YHS office or in a box at the church on a near-daily basis.

"It kind of blew up on me," McGuffin continued. "I really had no idea that this was going to happen — that the community would step up the way it has."

She has escorted many a needy student to the room and witnessed the excitement and thrill of their finding something warm to wear or a pretty formal dress. In an effort to share this "blessing" through her words, she hopes that everyone in the community can picture what she has seen.

"One male student came into the store and just stood still in silence," McGuffin said. "He looked around, and then said 'you're kidding me, right? I haven't been shopping in so long.' He went over to one rack, spotted a jacket he loved and began jumping up and down — he was that excited. Well, his buddy was with him, and he loved the same jacket, so he told him to take it, that it would look really good on him.

"I almost cried. The student who had given up the jacket he loved so much to his friend, continued looking for something for himself. He ended up finding three jackets, but said he couldn't decide which one he wanted — so I told him to take all three. His reaction? 'You're kidding me, right?'"

For a few female students, finding something warm is secondary to finding that perfect prom formal, especially with spring prom just a few months from now, on May 10.

"The other day, five girls wanted to come up here at lunch to look at formals," McGuffin recalled. "Two got formals and three got hoodies. All of them were encouraging this one student. 'You can find something that will fit — don't give up — keep looking.' They kept pulling things off the rack to show her. All of a sudden, I heard this voice from behind the racks excitedly shout out, 'it fits ... it fits ... it fits ...' and all her friends screamed 'hurray' in unison."

The Angel's Closet, named for the community, accepts all donations of new or gently-used items for teens and young adults.

"I'm pushing for more clothing for males, right now," McGuffin explained. "They are kind of getting left out-of-the-loop. There is also a need for full-figure or hard-to-fit-size prom formals."

Seals believes the Angel's Closet not only speaks to the mindset of the entire YHS staff, but to the community itself.

"They're not going to let our students go without," Seals said.

"Even though it doesn't happen very often, we've had kids who have only one pair of pants, a couple of shirts and one pair of shoes," he added. "Once we identify who these students are, we take them up to the Closet confidentially and let them pick out whatever they want. If there's nothing in their size, we put the word out as to what is needed, and staff will go out and purchase specific items."

"Then there are those students who, when they turn 18, are put out on the streets to fend for themselves," Seals continued. "Well, we're going to make sure that student crosses the finish line — make sure they graduate from high school. That's really what this project is all about."

"We live with a mountain of angels," McGuffin said of the community, "and that's when we began calling the room Angel's Closet. Honestly, I have not donated one stitch of clothing — the community has done this — not me. The angels are the community."

Clothing and accessories (such as knitted or crocheted caps or scarves, gloves, socks, and shoes) can be dropped off at the YHS office by 4 p.m. weekdays, or 9 a.m - 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the Mountain Christian Center office off Highway 49 behind True Value Home Center.

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