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First Coast

Former Jacksonville Teacher Giving Back To Homeless Students

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Giving Closet Project
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A former Jacksonville teacher is stepping up to help students experiencing hardships.

When a local school's lost-and-found box filled up with 21 bags worth of belongings, The Giving Closest Project founder and former Duval County teacher Jennifer Smith said she had to do something.

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Credit The Giving Closet Project
Jennifer Smith

Her small volunteer project got underway soon after Smith noticed all of the unclaimed jackets, shirts and lunch boxes piling up around the school.

Smith said,  “all the clothing that's sitting there, unclaimed that I knew was getting ready to be tossed out or donated to a store, I thought why not launder this clothing, build racks, hang it all up and let our homeless students have access to some of this stuff.”

On Wednesday's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, Smith said she did receive some backlash from others asking, “how she could just give away clothing that belongs to other students.”

Smith explained that she worked with Duval County Public Schools to understand the policies on how long to hold on to the belongings to see if they could be reunited with their original owners first.

Related: Listen to the full interview with Smith on First Coast Connect

When an owner cannot be located the items are then added to the Giving Closet. The collections done a couple of times a year.

With more than 3,000 homeless students in Duval County, her idea- The Giving Closet Project - took off.

This growing nonprofit recently received a significant grant through the Children's Services Council of nearly $50,000 to expand into Palm Beach County.

The Palm Beach Giving Closet had its grand opening in January to serve children in the Palm Beach area and the Jacksonville location continues to see a strong need.

The organization is asking for donations on its website at givingclosetproject.org to help continue the program. 

Samantha Kindler can be reached at newsteam@wjct.org, 904-358-6317 or on Twitter at @kindlersamantha.