On her first day volunteering for Hangers at the Academy for Innovative Studies-Diamond Avenue, former Harwood Middle School teacher Pam Wiseman helped a student obtain new clothing and later transported her back to the school.
“When we got back to school, she asked if she could go home with me,” says Pam, who has volunteered for the nonprofit since she retired seven years ago. “This is a child who has known me for 45 minutes to an hour. And as a former teacher, you are seeing red flags and asking what is going on in this child’s world that makes her want to cling to someone she has met for the first time ever. It’s scary.”
After telling a school official to monitor the child’s situation, Wiseman says she had to leave the building as fast as she could because it was “heart-wrenching.”
Wiseman’s interaction is one example of many the volunteers experience when providing clothing, hygiene products, and books for the children referred by teachers, counselors, nurses, or parents. Hangers is a nonprofit run by the Evansville Area Council PTA and is the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp.’s clothing resource. In the last 86 days, Hangers has served 2,067 EVSC students and 5,042 since August 2013.
When Wiseman taught at Harwood, it wasn’t uncommon for her to notice students who wore the same clothing for days or who didn’t have a toothbrush. Those children would be sent home with an application form with the parent’s consent and sizes needed.
“They came to school with fractured situations at home, whether it is parents who are not supportive or parents who are just trying to keep their heads above water. Frequently, it was a single parent or a grandparent trying to raise them,” she says.
Hangers began in 1950 as the Evansville Area Council PTA, but recently has undergone dramatic changes since moving out of Washington Middle School in 2014. Director Barry Jones, a custodian at EVSC, has been with the nonprofit since August 2013. He has rebranded Hangers from a garage sale setting to a department store feel.
The nonprofit receives donations from the community and has several generous corporate sponsors to help keep items stocked. Additionally, Wiseman and her husband Lino, also a former EVSC teacher who volunteers his time, give by perusing yard sales (last year, they donated more than 6,000 items). Hangers relies on monetary donations as well — it costs around $50 to clothe a child.
Children may use Hangers once a year, except in severe cases. When they visit, they receive a hygiene bag, eight shirts, four pants, three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, shoes, coats, jackets, gloves, hats, belts, accessories and more. Hangers often runs short on new socks and new underwear, uniform pants and jeans, and tops sizes 8-12.
The nonprofit also provides students with essentials for events such as formals and proms. Hangers offers a Prom Palooza in March allowing students to pick out prom attire such as dresses and suits for free, while giving several the chance to win entire prom packages.
In addition to the health benefits and prevention, it helps with morale, says Jones. “All of a sudden they are getting to pick out what all the other kids at school are wearing,” he says.
For more information about Hangers, call 812-435-8888, ext. 22212 or visit evansvillepta.org.