Schenectady boutique offers students, families free, warm clothes

A hat, gloves and proper coat can make all the difference for elementary students who might not otherwise have them.

Inside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School – a neighborhood school serving students in Pre-K through 5th grade – lives a boutique with a unique purpose.

The City Mission of Schenectady runs closets in schools around Schenectady. The Unique Boutique is one of them.

“You get to pick out new clothes, you can wear them any day you want,” said 3rd grader Jah’nya Bowlin.

The boutique is free and open for students to use anytime they need it. They can also earn currency to shop by being kind to a fellow student or going above and beyond in class.

“My favorite clothes that I got here is the Army pants that was here which I actually love and my mom loved it, too and I got matching PJs for us,” said Akira Sistrunk, a 5th grader.

The goal is to help students’ whole families, including siblings and parents, whether families are dealing with the extreme cold or navigating a difficult time.

“If there is a homeless situation where a family becomes displaced, we have the ability to let them come in, shop for an entire family,” said Rebecca Fogg, the school psychologist.

Fogg said sometimes teachers will notice a student needs some help, and the boutique can provide anything from food to hygiene products and clothing.

“If a teacher notices that a student’s been wearing the same outfit for a couple days in a row, they can send them down here, we can do a little bit of shopping. We also have a washer and dryer so we can wash the clothes they’ve had on and send them home as well,” she said.

The closet is stocked and staffed by the city mission. It’s a living reminder that the donation boxes around the city are filled with the ability to change so much for a student and their family, Associate Director of Development Erin Breslin said.

“For those who are donors and donate to all the red boxes we have all around and provide clothes, and those wonderful volunteers who help sort the clothes, to see the end result. To see the children who will come into this space and feel really happy about getting to make a decision about what clothes they want to get,” Breslin said.