Jennifer Smith is the founder and CEO of The Giving Closet Project
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When I started my teaching career 11 years ago, working in the inner-city opened my eyes to what living in poverty truly meant. Because many students were unable to afford their school supplies, I would buy them myself. My students would walk into my classroom on the first day of school and be surprised to see all new folders and binders neatly stacked on top of their desk. I regularly brought breakfast and snacks to my kids, because other than lunch, I knew that would be the only food they would have for the day. If I saw a student walking around in pain because their shoes were too small, I would buy them shoes that actually fit.
Some of my fondest memories are of Pancake Friday. Almost every Friday morning, I’d cook pancakes on the griddle for my class, just to show them how much I cared. The smiles on their faces were priceless. Little did I know, that this would be the beginning of how my passion of working with children, would turn into something much more than just helping the students within the four walls of my classroom.
Yes, touching the lives of 24 students each year was rewarding, but I wanted to help more children. Each year that went by, the number of children living in poverty just kept increasing. I would often ask myself, “How come there are so many children in need like this? If their parents can’t help them, who can? What can I do to help all of these children in need?”
Fast forward to April 2016: After seeing piles of clothes, lunch boxes, and other items being discarded year after year from our school lost and found, I came up with the idea of turning it into something much more. I discussed my idea with my class, and their eyes lit up with excitement just talking about it. My students knew my favorite book is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, and within minutes we had the perfect name: The Giving Closet Project. It was then that I realized, The Giving Closet Project is an idea that can be implemented in every school across America to help those in need. With the help of my class, school, community businesses and leaders, The Giving Closet Project continues to grow and move forward.