This High School Janitor Keeps a Giving Closet Full of Soap

She stocks toiletries, food, clothes, and other essentials that homeless students can take freely.

Nov 21, 2019

Having a place to shower and brush your teeth along with the soap, shampoo and toothpaste that go along with it is something we all take for granted. But that is not always the case.

Four years ago, Tucker High School custodian Carolyn Collins encountered two homeless students who were living in a car with their mother according to the Washington Post. They asked her if she could open the cafeteria door so that they could use the bathroom to freshen up before school started, but what she gave them – and the rest of the student body – went much further than that. 

The morning that Collins had met the two siblings, she realized that there must be several more students who were homeless and could use some help. On her way home that day she purchased $200 worth of toiletries, underwear, notebooks, and snacks, from some local dollar stores.

The next day informed the administration that she would be providing these necessities to homeless students free of charge. She cleaned out a storage closet and organized the items there. 

“I knew that they weren’t the only kids at school who were struggling,” Collins, 54, told The Washington Post. “And I thought, ‘I’m going to do whatever I can to help these kids. High school is hard enough without being homeless.'”

For the past four years, Collin’s giving closet has been helping students’ access basic goods such as backpacks, socks, toothbrushes, and even prom dresses according to the Washington Post.

The school, which is located about 25 miles outside of Atlanta Georgia, has many students living in poverty and about 10 to 15 students who are homeless at a given time. Many live in cars with a parent or at friends’ houses temporarily, and therefore lack necessities such as shoes, deodorant, and pencils. 

Students feel comfortable with Collins, and whisper in her ear when they need anything. If she doesn’t have it in the closet she will go out of her way to provide it. Some of the items Collins purchases with her own money, but most are donated by students, teachers, and neighbors. 

“If a student needs something and it’s not in the closet, Ms. Collins will go out of her way to get it or find somebody else who can,” Parker said. “Her commitment to our kids is heartwarming. Whatever problem they might be having in their lives, they know they can trust her to listen and help.”

Kennedy Carroll, a former student is now a student at Savannah State University, explained that Collins went above and beyond to help him when he and his mom became homeless. 

“She was my angel” Carroll says, explaining that she would take him aside to see how he was doing, and he would tell her everything. 

“She gave me hope to keep going. I learned that if I could conquer being homeless, that I could conquer anything. Because of her generosity, I didn’t give up. I’ll remember how good she was to me for the rest of my life.”

Collins provides more than just physical essentials to these students. She understands that the problem is larger, and offers her love, guidance, and support. 

“Not every kid who comes to the closet is homeless — some come from single homes and don’t have dads in their lives. It’s hard not to have a dad at home, especially when you’re a young boy. I just hug them and love them and let them know that I’m here for them.” Collins said.

The giving closet has been growing over the years as more and more donations come in. Over 150 students have already been helped. “I never anticipated it would get this big, lots of good people want to help,” she said.

Collins hopes to expand the opportunity to other schools by helping them stock their own giving closets. In the meantime, she says “Seeing that they know they are loved, that’s my reward.”

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.