Charities Hit Hard Due to Donation Shortages Amid Pandemic

Catie's Closet is a nonprofit that partners with local schools to help underserved kids but due to the pandemic and remote learning, the organization has had to distribute items at lunch programs and mail them individually

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There's been a significant drop in charitable donations since the coronavirus began, which nonprofits say highlight those living below the poverty line.

As a sophomore at Lowell High School in Massachusetts, Alexandra Ampara had already lived in several foster homes.

"I had the same outfit. Four outfits for about the whole year," Ampara said, adding that she skipped school out of embarrassment.

Ampara said her mother also had mental health and addiction issues, causing the teenager to hit a low point.

In winter of 2011 she did not even have a coat. Then, just before Christmas, her life changed forever.

"A teacher of mine was like, 'hey there's this closet full of clothes, brand new clothes, toiletries,'" Ampara recalled.

It was the first time she had been to Catie's Closet at her school. The organization is a nonprofit that partners with local schools to aid underserved kids.

Catie's Closet was started by CEO and co-founder Mickey Cockrell and her sisters. It is named after her late niece who died from a rare disease in 2010.

"They need coats, they need warm clothes now. They need, access to shoes and boots and sneakers," Cockrell said.

The organization turns unused rooms in schools into a Catie's Closet stocked with clothing, shoes — used and new — plus toiletries and school supplies.

With students learning remotely due to COVID-19, Catie's Closet now has to distribute items at school lunch programs and mail them individually.

Normally, they help more than 50,000 students a year at over 80 schools in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. But demand has skyrocketed — also because of COVID.

"We anticipate the need even for this fourth quarter to be even greater," Cockrell said.

A recent Catie's Closet Facebook post asking the public for help has been seen more than 350,000 times and shared more than 3,000 causing a 30% increase in donations. But it's not enough.

Cockrell says the problem is that children are the largest U.S. age group living in poverty.

"It's just that the need is outpacing what we're able to do and we just don't wanna say no to any child," she said.

Ampara, who is now a 26 year old mother of three and a social worker, knows first hand. That's why she adopted two children in her foster home at just 18 years old and is devoting her life to helping families the way Catie's Closet helped her.

"It was the encouragement and the love and support I was receiving behind the clothes," Ampara said.

Because Catie's Closet distribution centers like one in Hyde Park are closed to the public, that means hundreds of volunteers can't get inside to help.

But the organization is still accepting donations, which can be dropped off in a safe, socially distant way.

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