Cougar Closet Gives Students 'Sense of Pride,' Awareness of Need
The food pantry is housed in the Dakota Freshman Center but open to all Macomb County residents.
Nestled between the classrooms and lockers of Dakota's Freshman Center sits a closet.
The space is no bigger than the average janitor's closet, but the items stored within speak to this location's purpose and significance.
Pasta, canned vegetables, cleaning products and diapers are only a few of products stored in the Cougar Closet, a food pantry housed in the Freshman Center and open to all Macomb County residents.
"From Cougar Day on, when they come in for registration, we talk to students and parents about the closet," said Kim Voss, Freshman Center principal and lead organizer of the closet. "I think there is a sense of pride that it exists and a sense of awareness through our building and the campus."
Staff donates big
Although the closet is housed in the Freshman Center, all of Dakota supports it through monetary donations and the high school's annual canned food drive.
At its start, the closet was supplied mostly through monetary donations by Dakota staff. Although staff remains the largest donors to the closet, Voss said anyone from the community is welcome to leave non-perishable goods or toiletries at the Freshman Center's front desk.
"Anybody can make a donation," Voss said. He added that the one item the closet needs most is diapers. "The people who seem to use the closet the most are families with young children."
Each fall, a school-wide canned food drive is held to benefit the Clinton Township Kiwanis Club.
Originally, all cans and money collected during the drive were donated to the Kiwanis Club. However, with the opening of the closet, it was decided that ninth grade collections would be used to stock the closet, while cans donated in the upper grades would continue to be given to the Kiwanis Club.
"This year, the senior class chose to give half of the monetary contributions from the canned food drive to our closet, so half went to the Kiwanis and half went to our closet," Voss said.
Some 1,736 cans were collected for the closet and half of the $4,589.13 raised will be used to stock the closet throughout the year.
"The need is increasing," Voss said. "I don't know if it was just the recession or the demographics of our county, but there is definitely a need that has increased and I can honestly say it's very touching. It's been very positive for me to see people come in, and it's very heartwarming to hear their stories."
Freshmen give back
Members of Dakota's Freshmen Council and first-hour representatives regularly give up their lunch hour and work after school to organize the closet.
"I felt it was important to give back to the community because some people don't have enough money to buy these things to live," said freshman Holly Renaud.
Fellow freshman Mark Gjini said, "I thought that this community closet was a great way to provide service for people in need and it's a great way for people to have a great Thanksgiving and a great Christmas."
Although the closet is closed during holiday breaks, Voss said she does work with families using the closet to supply perishable goods such as turkeys and hams for the holiday. More than 20 families passed through the closet this week alone, she said.
The closet is open 7:15 a.m.-2:15 p.m. Monday-Friday while school is in session. For questions, call the school at (586) 723-3300.