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March 07. 2014 10:00PM

High school students want to give the shirts off their backs


Friday morning, from left, Manchester High School West student council members Zerina Bajramovic, Erin Lawrence, Anna Calzini and Lamia Mukanovic sort through jackets collected during a clothing drive the last few weeks at the school. The clothes gathered will benefit homeless veterans, the Child and Family Services teen drop-in, and a new WHS clothing closet/pantry. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- Several West High School students, who were spending a free period Friday morning helping sort clothing and toiletry donations, said they don't know anyone at school who would need to make use of the school's new clothing closet/pantry.

That's not surprising, said school counselor Eli Glass, because it's not something most teens would share. But Glass said almost 50 percent of the Manchester West students qualify for free or reduced price lunches, so there definitely are students who will benefit from the closet/pantry.

Guidance counselor Renee Beaulieu said students aren't always dressed for the weather. "We saw students coming in with flip flops," she said. "Sometimes, it's a choice. Sometimes it's not."

When students turn 18, she said, some parents kick them out and they are on their own, sleeping in cars, or staying with friends.

Glass was inspired to suggest a clothing drive after seeing some of his former students going to a Child and Family Services drop-in center on Hanover Street.

He said West Principal Christopher Motika endorsed the project because he had experience with a clothing closet as an assistant principal at Nashua North High School.

Glass was pleasantly surprised that the three-week drive, which was adopted by the student council and assisted by the NJROTC program, produced so many donations that there will be plenty to share with the drop-in center and with homeless veterans.

Hannah and Vanessa Avard, juniors and student council members, were sorting toiletries. Hannah said: "I think this will help our school a lot."

Vanessa, who said the donations showed the word got out beyond the school, said: "Everybody has something they don't need at their house."

Despite the volume of donations, the sorting went quickly, thanks to eight women who work at Foy Insurance. Heidi SanSouci said the agency learned about the drive through a staff member whose son goes to West. "We brought a lot of donations," she said. They also brought sorting and folding skills. In less than two hours, all the bags were empty and tables were piled high with folded clothing sorted by gender, when obvious, and by age and size.

SanSouci said the insurance agency allows employees to volunteer on company time, so when they learned the agency would be without power for part of the day Friday, they opted to go to West and help sort. "It's better than taking a day (off)," said SanSouci.

Elizabeth Wyman, a junior on the student council, said Glass brought the idea to the council and she is sure the project will continue.

"I know that lots of families struggle," said Wyman.

Joseph Riley, who said he has lots of free periods as a senior, was wearing shorts when he arrived with the Avards and Wyman. He was wearing shorts and said: "Cold is just a state of mind."

But he understands that there are people who wear shorts in winter because they have no other option and the clothing closet will help.

Glass said he's pleased with the student council support, especially from the seniors. "This would be a good legacy," he said.

dvincent@unionleader.com


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