creating a care closet, what to put in a care closet, how to stock care closet

Creating a Care Closet for Students: 6 Steps and What to Stock

The connection between health and academic success is fairly obvious. Healthy students miss less school, participate, and tend to learn more. Personal hygiene is part of that success formula. Why? Because good personal hygiene prevents the spread of germs and illness among students. Once more, not having personal care essentials – a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, etc. – to maintain personal hygiene can be a source of embarrassment and harm mental well-being, which can pose educational barriers, too.

“Hygiene poverty” is a term that has gained traction in the last 5-10 years as awareness grew about the challenges faced by people who couldn’t afford the basic personal care products to maintain cleanliness and good health. This condition stems from an inability to access and afford personal essentials by individuals (or families) and it can have a significant impact on physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life. With inflation on the rise and costs creeping up while wages remain somewhat static, hygiene poverty is striking more broadly than ever before.

As more K-12 students suffer from this plight, Care Closets or Hygiene Closets are becoming more popular with many teachers and school administrators creating these in-school offerings for students in need. Care Closets provide free essential items that students and families may struggle to afford. They offer an assortment of useful items and basic necessities that a student might be missing from shampoo and deodorant to non-perishable healthy snacks, boxed dinners for a night’s meal, period products, combs, hairbrushes, nail trimmers, school supplies and more.

We talked with expert educators on the key steps to take in creating a Care Closet, as well as the much-needed items to stock in the closet to address this growing student need across America.

1. Conduct a Needs Assessment
Assess the student population to understand what items are of need and of interest among those in the school community. This can be done through confidential student surveys, as well as intake sessions and discussions with teachers, counselors, health aides and other administrative staff.

2. Develop a Plan
Determine what your Care Closet will provide based on the need. Your assortment will dictate the space and infrastructure required to house the product inventory. For example, if you plan to offer clothing items, this may require hangers and a racking system, while smaller items such as school supplies may only require storage bins. Determine your initial stock and ongoing maintenance efforts, and how you plan to operate the Care Closet, including policies for accessing items, volunteer involvement and promotion within your class and/or school. Be sure to be sensitive to student needs, as some students may want confidentiality when accessing the closet.

3. Enlist Partners and Identify Resources
Teachers tend to spend their own money to help their students. According to USA Today and a 3,200-teacher survey, the average classroom budget in 2023 was $200, and 84% of the teachers surveyed said they spent money out of their own pocket to cover costs for students, including basic school supplies.

Seek donations and partnerships. Consider reaching out to local businesses, community organizations, and individuals to solicit funding to support the Care Closet. Many businesses and community groups have annual giving budgets with established funds for key causes. Many local businesses care about and wish to contribute to community initiatives especially those that help local youth in need. There is no need to fly solo. Enlist help by recruiting volunteers from the school community, including parents, teachers, and students, to help with stocking, organizing, and managing the Care Closet. Having a dedicated team of volunteers can ensure the closet runs smoothly and is responsive to student need.

4. Buying in Bulk
Now that you have been successful in raising funds and know the items to stock in your Care Closet, you could head to the local discount retailer to make your purchase or consider the cost-effectiveness and ease of buying bulk and having the goods shipped directly to your school. The bulk-buying strategy is a smart one because it offers a significant per unit cost reduction and you won’t have to hassle with physically shopping for Care Closet items across multiple brick-and-mortar retail stores, pushing shopping carts, and bagging and lugging the items to the school location.

Bulk product purchases are also well suited for broad initiatives such as a central Care Closet serving all students in a larger school or district. Be sure you plan for backstock space. Products are offered by the case and often include between 12 to more than 200 units in each, depending on the product. Click here to see our wide assortment of bulk items for student Care Closet needs.

Here is a list of common Care Closet essentials to consider:

Hygiene Products
Toothbrushes and toothpaste
Shampoo and conditioner
Soap and Body Wash
Period products (pads, tampons)
Razors and shaving cream
Hand sanitizer
Wet Wipes

Outerwear: jackets and coats
Hats, gloves, and scarves

Food Items
Non-perishable snacks (granola bars, crackers)
Mac-n-cheese or other “dinner items” that students can take home to eat after school

School Supplies
Pens and pencils
Binders and folders

Personal Care Items
Hairbrushes and combs
Lip balm
Nail clippers
Band-aids and basic first aid items
Reusable water bottles

Miscellaneous Items
Laundry detergent
Reusable shopping bags

Additional Items for Specific Needs
Diapers and baby wipes (for families with infants)
Baby formula and baby food

5. Make It Shoppable
Identify a suitable location within the school for the Care Closet, ideally a centrally located space that is easily accessible to students. Ensure the space is equipped with shelves, racks, bins and other infrastructure needed to store and display items in an organized manner.

While it’s wonderful to receive much-needed items for free, it is an even more exciting experience when a student can “shop” a collection and make personal choices. Making the Care Closet shoppable and fun is important to help students feel special, more at ease and comfortable. Consider background music, reusable shopping bags for the selected items and other creative ways to mimic a real retail environment.

6. Launch, Be Data Driven
Showcase the excitement with a grand opening event for all students to browse the Care Closet and see this new school resource. Manage access per your policies and be sure to enforce a confidential approach too for those that may want it. Promote the resource within your school across a range of the communication channels including to the student community and parents/guardians.

Monitor your inventory by establishing a system to assess product levels, the most popular items and be sure to stock up accordingly. Gather regular feedback from students on items that might be missing and consider conducting a confidential student survey to ensure the Care Closet is supporting student needs. Don’t forget to connect the dots between the health, well-being and success of your student population and the Care Closet. Gather data such as grades and missed days for your student base to assess the before and after impact.

We’ve had many teachers and administrators share their stories about the positive impact a Care Closet has played within their school. You can help students to get their personal care needs met for a better experience in and outside of school. These Care Closets are impactful resources to assist students from low-income families, as well as those facing a “flash” hygiene poverty moment such as a family emergency or crisis situation.

We can help you initially stock and restock your Care Closets with our distinct and broad bulk offering of more than 20,000 quality products. If you don’t see an item on our website, we go the extra step to find and source it for you.

With the back-to-school season almost upon us and teachers and administrators starting the planning for the upcoming academic year, discover the difference a Care Closet can make to your school or district. Start your Care Closet planning today!

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