Kindness and compassion are the two driving forces for one teacher who set out to make a tangible difference in her students’ lives. Five years in the making, Crystal Underhile, kindergarten and Young 5s teacher at Endeavor Charter Academy, created a discrete resource for her students to gain access to necessary supplies, which has now grown into a school-wide source for families who may need support.
Underhile created a Care Closet for her students during her first year teaching at Endeavor in 2017. At the time, the closet consisted of one simple necessity: an extra set of underwear for kindergarteners in case of an accident during the day. “I had been a pre-school teacher, so they had accidents daily,” she reflected. “I would rather they change at school and lose 10 minutes of education than have to wait for mom or dad, or worse go home and miss the rest of the day. Not to mention any embarrassing moments.”
Shortly after, she was moved to continue adding further resources for her students. Underhile could be found at the local thrift store or searching for goods at area garage sales to stock the closet with coats, snow boots, snow pants, hats and gloves, and more.
“I started it for my students and the students of the school,” shared Underhile. “Just one act of kindness can make a big difference in another person's life, whether they know where the help came from or not.”
Once word got out about the Care Closet, donations began to pour in from current and previous Endeavor families and staff members. Parents would bring in school uniforms that no longer fit their children to pass along to the next generation.
“I was given a closet to put the wearable items in and organized it so teachers from the lower grades can just walk in and grab what they need along with a return slip to send home to parents,” she explained.
Once the clothing portion of the Care Closet was established, Underhile set off to create an essentials pantry for students to take home necessary items, alleviating one more area of stress for Endeavor’s families. “I was given a gift card from another teacher, Kaitlyn Kleimola, and her husband from their church to buy the initial startup supplies,” she said. On top of that, last year, the PTO hosted a fundraiser to stock the Care Closet with essential items.
“It was so amazing to see kids and parents giving from their hearts to help our school,” said Dandridge. “If only the school, students, and parents knew what this would mean to those parents in the coming months.”
The Care Closet includes essential items such as deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sanitary pads, Q-tips, toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, body wash, soap bars, laundry soap, dish soap, baby wipes, paper towels, body sprays, and since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Lysol wipes and sanitizer. Underhile also provides grocery bags to put the items in so it is conspicuous from peers as items are taken home.
Endeavor’s Care Closet is free to any student, parent, or family who requests help, and the resource remains 100% confidential. To gain access to the supplies, a family simply needs to email or call Ms. Underhile or the school to request supplies.
“I wanted to give the parents hope when they may not have known where the next bottle of shampoo or dish soap might come from,” she shared. “These donations could be what they were worried about instead of being able to buy food.”
Underhile shared that keeping the Care Closet discrete and judgment-free is close to her heart. “The closet is in my classroom bathroom, so it is perfect for allowing students to grab what they need. My classroom students are young enough that they don't know what the kids do in there, or if they do know, they think it is perfectly normal.”
In the future, Underhile aims to continue replenishing the supplies with a yearly fundraiser to ensure Endeavor’s students and families continue to have access to necessary supplies.
“I feel that Endeavor is helping families to be successful, and it shows we care about our students,” she said.