According to Kathryn Butler, director of student support services, there are currently 291 homeless youth in Greenwood County School District 50, which is on pace to exceed last year’s total of 543.

The rising number of homeless children in the district prompted Butler to create Kathryn’s Closet three years ago. The program collects needed items such as blankets, gloves, hats, toilet paper and hygiene products through donations from the community.

“We have needs to meet and we are stepping up to the challenge. We have caring, loving people here in our community that want to help them and there are many ways that you can help the homeless,” Butler said.

Three eighth-graders are contributing to not just Kathryn’s Closet, but their own community’s homeless crisis.

Brewer Middle School students Claire Hudson, Zoey Montgomery and Lila Eisenreich are members of the school’s student-run Beta Club. Hudson serves as president, Montgomery’s club secretary and Eisenreich’s vice president. The girls noticed their classmates affected by homelessness and took action, so they urged their peers and fellow Beta Club members to donate clothes so they can be given to kids who need them.

“The community really needs more clothing for kids,” Hudson said. “A lot of kids get bullied for not exactly having the nicest or newest clothes, and I don’t think that’s fair.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, bullying affected more than 5 million students in 2018. And statistics the NCES collected in 2019 indicate middle schoolers are reporting more acts of bullying than either high school or elementary schoolers.

“A lot of our students aren’t able to see outside of themselves, that’s typical with middle school children, I mean that’s normal development. This allows them to actually see how they have an impact on their community and have an impact on the students that are sitting right beside them that they don’t even know are struggling,” Brewer Middle School seventh-grade ELA teacher, and Beta Club Advisor, Kristina Garrison said.

Any donated clothing Brewer middle school receives that their students’ can’t wear will be donated to Kathryn’s closet.

“It’s so important for us as a community to come together to help these children stay in school and graduate because they are our future, they have a story to tell and they will in turn help that next generation. That’s what we want, ‘a community of helping’,” Butler said.