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Murray Journal

The Spartan Closet is open through the summer for teens

Jul 01, 2022 09:31AM ● By Peri Kinder

By Peri Kinder | [email protected]

When Thomas Schwab graduated from Murray High at the top of his class in 2018, the community was shocked to learn he’d been homeless and living in a car for two years.

Astonishment turned to action for Murray resident Pamela Andersen. She created a program that would help teens get anything from clothes to food to hygiene products. She created the Spartan Closet and partnered with the Murray Baptist Church (184 E. 5770 South) to use the church’s basement throughout the summer.

“Elementary and middle school students get regular donations, but there’s a void for providing for high school students in need,” Andersen said. “I want [these kids] to know they are loved and cared for and every person in the neighborhood feels that same way.”

The Spartan Closet is stocked with jeans, shirts, jackets, shoes, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, blankets, sheet sets, backpacks, hoodies, bras, underwear and socks, and Andersen takes special requests. Every item is free.

When a teen had a job offer that required steel-toed boots, Andersen sent a text to the community and within five minutes someone said they were bringing the boots over so the boy could get the job. A 16-year-old was kicked out of his home and needed clothes and other necessities. The Spartan Closet had exactly what he needed.

“If I could, I’d like to hug each teen and help them feel the love of all those in our Murray family,” Andersen said. “Let’s get our teens on the road to self-confidence and feeling self-worth because it is not their fault this stuff has happened to them.”

Donations are being accepted with a need for larger sizes (L and XL) and shirts in dark colors. One mother who benefited from the closet brings in donations to pay it forward to help other students.

It’s important for Andersen that teens who come in for help don’t feel judged or criticized. She talked with Schwab about how to make the Spartan Closet a safe place for youth. Schwab, who graduated top of his class from Nuclear Field "A" School, the most academically rigorous training program in the U.S. Navy, gave her some advice.

“I stress this so much because it's very important, but many people will suffer for their pride and ego, so they should not feel attacked or picked on,” Schwab said. “I would not take clothes or most anything if I feel like I'm being made fun of or taken advantage of. I always was poor growing up, and when I was homeless especially, I saw many people refuse help if they felt like they were being put on display. So while something in public where anyone can see is good, it would also benefit greatly from having the option to be inconspicuous while getting aid.”

Andersen has built partnerships in the community to keep the closet stocked. Home2Suites donated 400 toiletry items and local dentists have provided toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. Village Cleaners donated 200 dry-cleaned coats. The Murray Baptist Church allows the Spartan Closet and the Murray Children’s Pantry (located next door) rent-free space.

“Generally, the shelves are stuffed but the need has grown,” said Jim Brass, president of the Murray Children's Pantry Foundation. “I say, if it comes down to paying rent or buying food, pay the rent and we’ll give you food. It’s hard to describe when you see the relief on people’s faces.”

Both the Spartan Closet and the Murray Children’s Pantry are open every Tuesday and the third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon. The Murray Youth City Council/Chamber of Commerce will help staff the closet during the summer. For more information, contact Andersen at 801-363-5922.

“I look at the war in Ukraine and I cry because I can’t do anything, but I can in Murray,” Andersen said. “In Murray, we’ve made this about our people. We love our kids and we want them to succeed.”