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With a closet full of clothes and boundless compassion, Morrisville teachers work to meet the needs of a community

Posted November 28, 2018 by Liza Frenette

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Left to right: Teacher Cadi New, Social Worker Shelly Kempton, Guidance Counselor Michele Cesta, Teacher Meaghan Palmer, Teacher Susan Yancey, Guidance Counselor Janine Anderalli. Photo provided.


In Central New York, where Route 20 cuts a path through the rolling hills and dairy farms, the winter wind can be fierce and snow banks high.

Not every student has sufficient clothing to keep out the cold, or nice enough to keep away the sneers. Some families know the knot of not having enough food. And in Morrisville, there is no longer a grocery store.

But clothes and food for the taking can be found inside the local high school, thanks to the efforts of concerned teacher Meaghan Palmer. Here in the Morrisville Clothes Closet, students can find donated shirts, pants, coats, new socks and underwear for themselves and their families.

“When kids don’t have to wear the same clothes every day, they’re more willing to show up,” said Palmer, a veteran history teacher of 14 years.

The space is set up like a store with racks by type and size. The students who use the Clothes Closet are asked to bring in a list of sizes and need for family members who may not have money or transportation to buy clothes or get to the pantry.

There are 60 boys and girls who regularly take clothes — some of whom are often lean on hope, but find it through the care of a teacher, coupled with a pair of blue jeans, cans of tuna fish, cereal, spaghetti sauce, vegetables and juice.

It’s a direct social justice zip line to adolescents and teenagers.

“When you go home and don’t know where your next meal is coming from, or where you’re sleeping, global studies is not so important,” Palmer said. “The task is to address those issues first.”

Daily help is available through the Clothes Closet, and there is help for students during the holidays too.

For Thanksgiving, educators sent home 18 baskets stuffed with food to families in need. For Christmas, Hanukkah and other winter holidays celebrated with a school break, students in need are identified by school health care professionals and invited to a private party. They are bestowed with gifts and food to carry them through the holiday, a time when snowstorms and sastrugi in the surrounding fields are both commonplace.

Palmer began her project seven years ago by gathering boxes of donated clothes in the back of her classroom, which soon overwhelmed the space.

Science teacher Lisa Lopez helped her organize the clothes. Meanwhile, Cadi New, a history teacher, and Susan Yancey, a family consumer sciences teacher, help run the Clothes Closet. All of them belong to the 67-member Morrisville-Eaton Faculty Association.

The faculty union addresses concerns such as families struggling economically, and other issues affecting the school community, through its school-wide “7 plus 1” initiative. Seven educators, including Palmer, and the superintendent meet once a month to hash out problems and progress.

“Poverty is an ongoing discussion,” said Palmer. “Some kids don’t come with their basic needs met, and behavioral issues happen as a result…There are kids I give food to, and there are no behavioral or attendance issues.”

In addition to belonging to the union, Palmer is a member of the LEO Club, part of the Morrisville Lions Club. The civic organization sponsors the Clothes Closet, assisted by donations from the Morrisville –Eaton FA and individual educators.

“The generosity of the faculty at Morrisville-Eaton is incredible. It’s unbelievable how kind and generous they are,” Palmer said.

To identify students in need, Palmer works with school health care professionals Shelly Kempton, a social worker and FA member; school nurse Cathy Navin, a Morrisville-Eaton Educational Support Personnel Organization member; and guidance counselors and FA members Michele Cesta and Janine Anderalli.

“They’re really in the thick of it,” said Palmer. “We have a lot of kids who have connections with these ladies. They have keys to the Clothes Closet. It’s really important we all sit down and work together.”

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