Beginning with the first day of every school year, abandoned possessions start to accumulate in the lost-and-found. It’s the cast away “stuff” that begins to gather like dust in closets and spare corners. Sweaters, pencil pouches, shoes and lunchboxes—all waiting to be claimed. Typically, many of these items remain “lost” and never again to be “found.”

As the year ends, the objects get bagged up and are either donated, or, more often than not, thrown in the garbage, transforming from lost possessions to trash. 

Jennifer Smith, a Duval County Public School teacher, decided there was a better life-cycle for these items.

After seeing many kids coming to class without some of the basic necessities, Smith got the idea to recycle the unclaimed items from the lost-and-found back into the school community. In 2016, the idea inspired the inception of The Giving Closet Project, when she noticed a student in need.

A Giving Closet Project volunteer fills up a bag of school clothes and supplies for students at local schools. // Photo: Brantman

“[That] morning I pulled into the school parking lot and saw [a student] changing clothes in the car. The backseat was filled with trash bags, so I was able to put two and two together. That day weighed heavily on me. [The student] finally broke down and opened up to me about what her and her mom were going through.”

By turning the lost items into donations for the students living without access to basic necessities, Smith created an efficient program with a quick turnaround. The program was eventually was implemented in Duval and St. Johns County public schools, and will be adopted in Palm Beach County, as well.

In addition to streamlining the donation process, Smith believes that The Giving Closet fosters a new sense of community within schools, simply by opening the dialogue.

“We started having class meetings about poverty and students started opening up about the struggles they were going through. The tears we shared during that time will always have a special place in my heart. It opened their eyes to what some of their classmates were going through. The bullying stopped, and my students learned what it meant to do good for others, despite their differences.”

Students can also volunteer to help with the project in their own schools. Teachers encourage them to learn the importance of civic responsibly while earning community service hours needed for graduation or scholarships.  

In addition, teachers themselves now feel less of the burden of setting up their own classes at the start of the new year.

“Not sure if you’ve noticed, but many parents become vocal about the amount of stuff teachers request on a school supply list. Trust me, when I say there’s a reason we request more school supplies every year. There’s a reason why we now request paper towels, soap and other non-traditional supplies. Many families can’t afford school supplies or clothing for their children, so educators are the ones that will provide for them.”

The Giving Closet is also currently accepting donations from the community. Smith encourages anyone wanting to help to consider giving new socks, underwear or shoes for elementary-aged children, both boys and girls. Monetary gifts and hygiene supplies are also accepted. Learn more here