The Caring Closet now has a home alongside the Guilderland Food Pantry

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Cutting the ribbon for The Caring Closet are, from left: Guilderland Town Board members Jacob Crawford and Christine Napierski; Albany County legislators Mickey Cleary, Dennis Feeney, and Andrew Joyce, with Guilderland Chamber Director Sandra Dollard in front of them; county spokeswoman Mary Rozak with Michael Castellana, Broadview CEO, behind her; Caring Closet founder and Guilderland Councilwoman Amanda Beedle with county Legislator Dustin Reidy behind her; Councilwoman Rosemary Centi; and Clerk Lynne Buchanan.

GUILDERLAND — Last Christmas, Amanda Beedle, newly elected to the town board, quietly collected personal hygiene projects for girls she thought needed them.

She put together 27 bags of personal-care necessities and included extra niceties like pedicure kits and movie tickets.

Beedle told The Enterprise at the time that she had grown up poor in Guilderland. “We were on welfare and we were on food stamps,” she said. “I was a recipient of community generosity and wanted to give back ….”

In March, she got school board approval to start a Caring Closet in the high school where kids, both boys and girls, could get items like toothpaste and toothbrushes, lip gloss and hair scrunchies, and deodorant and shampoo.

That expanded this school year to include 18-gallon totes filled with supplies at each of the district’s five elementary schools and the middle school. Any student in need, Beedle said, can just tell a counselor or social worker.

“As word spread, families have become reliant on it,” Beedle told The Enterprise this week.

In under three months, she said, 3,458 items have been donated worth about $4,200.

“I hustled like my hair was on fire,” said Beedle. “I knew the need was there … This is why I got elected.”

Beedle started working out of her basement at home and expanded to her garage. After her husband refused to mow the lawn because he couldn’t get to the mower in the jam-packed garage, Beedle knew she needed a venue outside her home.

Last week, the ribbon was cut, officially opening The Caring Closet. 

The 800-square-foot space is located next to the Guilderland Food Pantry at 4 Charles Blvd. Beedle is working closely with the food pantry director, John McDonnell, whom she describes as a guide and mentor.

McDonnell, she notes, no longer needs to spend his limited funds on hygiene products as together they build “a one-stop shop.”

Soon, Beedle hopes to train volunteers to staff The Caring Closet and plans to operate in evening hours — after she finishes work at her day job — to complement the food pantry’s daytime hours.

Beedle read in a recent Enterprise article about the food pantry that 20 percent of Guilderland students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. 

“That’s 1,115 students,” she said. “If people are food insecure, they are hygiene insecure … They will sacrifice hygiene products over food.”

A Spanish teacher at the high school, Shannon Clegg, volunteered to become a liaison, Beedle said, and has made a video on what The Caring Closet offers. “We realize the shame, the stigma,” said Beedle and are “very cautious” about presenting the project.

School counselors and social workers let her know when there is a need. Recently, for example, a student asked for eczema cream and Beedle traveled to four different stores to find a tube of hydrocortisone, for $9.

She felt frustrated, thinking of a family that may not have the hour to spare that she spent looking for cream, or might not even have a car.

The Caring Closet at the high school is replenished two to three times a week, Beedle said.

Before it was set up, she said, teachers, counselors, nurses, cafeteria workers, and hall monitors “were all taking money out of their pockets to help these kids.”

Beedle has boxes to collect donations of hygiene products at the Altamont Free Library, the Guilderland Public Library, the Guilderland Town Hall, Gade Farm, and Ink & Ivy House of Beauty. And there is now an outdoor weather-proof bin for donations at 4 Charles Blvd., right next to the donation bin for the food pantry.

The new space has shelves, flooring, and furniture donated by Michael Castellana, chief executive officer of Broadview, whom Beedle calls her “fairy godfather.”

“Nothing but a raging heart” has motivated her to start and expand the project, Beedle said. She now has a board of directors, composed of six women, and Beedle is the executive director.

“No salary is drawn for this organization,” she said. “Every dollar that is donated goes directly back into products.”

“I never wrote a grant before in my life,” said Beedle but was successful in getting $6,650 from the Albany County Legislature. 

Guilderland legislators Marty Cleary, Dennis Feeney, and Dustin Reidy were on hand at the Dec. 6 ribbon-cutting ceremony along with Chairman Andrew Joyce.

Beedle has also been moved by the kindness of the youth in town, including Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts 4-H clubs, and school groups.

“It’s our youth helping their peers, guided by adults,” she said. “If we can educate our kids to be a little kinder … a little kindness goes a long way.”

She believes The Caring Closet is knitting the community together.

Beedle felt moved to tears at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and, indeed, her voice often cracks with emotion as she talks with passion about the project.

“Now that students have become reliant on it … I can’t stop,” she said. “My heart has never been fuller. We grew up poor; I was one of 10 kids.”

Her family, she said, relied on the generosity of others and now she wants to return that generosity.

“I know what it is to be a student in need,” said Beedle. “There may be a  child just like me, a child struggling. This is not a handout; it’s a hand up. I’m living proof that generosity matters. Why not pay it forward?”

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