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Clothing bank joins Goodwill voucher option to aid needy students

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Come fall, Albuquerque school children in need of a clothes will have a new option.

Students in need can already use a voucher provided by Albuquerque Public Schools to buy clothes at six Goodwill stores around the city.

But a new nonprofit called the Student’s Clothing Bank will offer free, gently used clothing to school children from public and private schools in Bernalillo County starting after Labor Day, said director Kim Kerschen. The new clothing bank will be at 12000 Constitution NE.

Kerschen was the executive director of Bernalillo County Council of the PTA’s clothing bank for 10 years before resigning last spring, shortly before the PTA turned the clothing bank over to APS.

Kerschen said she resigned over differences with the PTA’s board regarding how to run the clothing bank. But after some time away from the job, she wants to help children again.

“This was my passion,” Kerschen said. “I enjoyed seeing the kids and clothing them and then seeing the difference between when they came in and when they walked out.”

Kerschen said she likes the idea of students coming into a clothing bank and being helped by volunteers who can help them pick out clothes and help improve their self-esteem.

She said that’s what she prefers about the way the clothing bank formerly operated compared with how APS now runs its clothing system – giving students vouchers, which look like gift cards, that they can use at Goodwill stores.

But there is a significant advantage to the voucher system, namely that it doesn’t take away from class time, said Sonja Martens, APS volunteer programs manager, who oversees the district’s clothing bank.

Under the old system, school counselors or volunteers would take students to the clothing bank and they would spend two to four hours picking out clothes twice a year, Martens said. She said keeping kids in class was the top reason for moving to a voucher system.

“I wanted to figure out a way to let kids get badly needed clothes but to do it in a way that doesn’t take away from class time,” Martens said.

She said the partnership with Goodwill has worked well and the district served 3,600 students last year, up from the 2,500 served the year before.

Under the district’s voucher system, students can pick out three outfits at a Goodwill store three times a year, Martens said. They are also given new shoes and coats once a year and new underwear and socks twice a year that are picked out by school counselors or volunteers. Marten said counselors work with families so they know what size of items to give students.

Kerschen said there’s nothing wrong with the voucher system – it’s just a matter of preference.

And having the new clothing bank and the voucher system will add to families’ options, she said.

Kerschen said she thinks Student’s Clothing Bank could serve 1,000 students in the upcoming school year. Students will be allowed to pick out three outfits twice a year – and maybe a third time if supplies allow, she said. She said the bank will also provide new socks and underwear.