By Mike Hazlip–
The Citrus Heights Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART) has announced the opening of a free clothing store at Sunrise Mall to help in-need families and students.
The store opened for the first time on Nov. 18 and is an effort by HART, Sunrise Mall and the Sunrise MarketPlace to partner with the San Juan Unified School District’s McKinney-Vento program to better serve families living in transition. The program helps families who have makeshift living arrangements, share a residence with another family, or who live in a shelter, motel, trailer park, campground, or “any place not designed for human accommodations.”
The district already offers a clothes closet for students, but administrators saw that many students avoided taking advantage of the program out of fear of being bullied or teased by their peers. That’s when organizers decided to make the clothing more accessible.
Organizers invited students from San Juan and Mesa Verde to participate in the process, and they chose to name the new store “The Underground Clothing Connection.” The store will be open Wednesdays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., but will not be open the week of Thanksgiving.
Kathilynn Carpenter, who serves as HART chair and executive director for Sunrise Marketplace, told The Sentinel in an email Monday that shopping at The Underground is free by appointment for approved families. Applicants are approved through San Juan Unified School District’s McKinney-Vento program. Clothing items are donated by the community.
Stan Munoz, a HART board member and volunteer at The Underground, told The Sentinel he hopes having a presence in the mall will encourage more families to take advantage of the program. Munoz, who spent almost 40 years as a manager for JCPenney, helps run the store with HART board member Kaylon McBride.
Sunrise Mall is providing the space rent-free to the program, according to the organizers. Volunteers set up clothing racks and lights in the space that was formerly occupied by Rue 21, near the mall’s theater.
The fashion chain’s leftover decor and fixtures are now being used to display donated items, and someone donated 40 hand-knitted hat and scarf sets. Munoz said JCPenney has similar items on sale for $39.99.
The volunteer said he is grateful for the generosity of Sunrise Mall, and said the project is becoming a community effort. Munoz estimates volunteers only spent $100 to put the shop together in a location that would typically cost $5,000 each month. He said there are 3,200 families in the school district who qualify to shop at The Underground.
“The concept is good, and what I like about it is, in the mall, it’s a community event now. The last 100 bags we’ve gotten have not been from church groups, they’ve been from people walking by.”
With winter coming, Munoz has a display of coats near the entrance and he expects families will need more items in the coming months. The Underground has clothing in children’s, kids, and adult sizes, and Munoz has organized a section with adult formal wear for anyone needing clothing for a job interview.
“If they’re looking for a careeer job, we have suits here,” said Munoz. “It’s called our career section. They can take a suit, take a slack, take a dress shirt and look for a job. The mall is hiring. Macy’s is hiring for Christmas, JCPenney is hiring for Christmas, go get a job.”
Carpenter said anyone wishing to donate items can bring them to The Underground Clothing Connection on Wednesday’s from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The program accepts all sizes of clean, gently used clothes, accessories, school supplies, and books. New socks and underwear in original packaging are also accepted, along with gift cards.
Items can also be dropped off at Kelsee’s Purse Thrift Store, at 7044 Sunrise Blvd., Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Those with questions or who are interested in learning more about HART can find more information at www.citrusheightsHART.org.