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The Simple Gift of Clean Clothes for School Kids

By Jim Sliney Jr

There is an elementary school in Washington Heights in New York City, that has an unfortunate distinction. Nearly one quarter of all of its students are not in permanent homes - they live in shelters or overcrowded residences.

Such a number is shocking, but the phenomenon is not rare. Citywide, 100,000 students are in similar situations.


An NYU study in 2019 found that over 10,000 children who started kindergarten in 2012 were homeless before they entered the 5th grade. Nearly 70% of them were homeless for more than a year. One in ten children in the city’s school system were homeless in 2017-18, while 75% of the children experiencing homelessness are “doubling up” with other families.


Children with dirty clothes get teased and bullied. PS 132’s principal, Wendy Poveda told ABC news that living with dirty clothes, “impacts attendance. It impacts self-esteem.” She told Pix11 that clean clothes are important because they give students, “equity, a sense of self, of belonging.”

So Principal Poveda worked with Catholic Charities of New York to get help. A laundry room was created in a room off the Juan Pablo Duarte (JPD) school cafeteria. Now kids are able to bring their laundry to school. Wearing their backpacks that read “JPD cares” they drop off the backpacks with their laundry in them and a school aide launders the clothes. And it doesn’t even interrupt the students’ day because the fresh clothes are ready for the kids when their school day ends.


When trying to understand the impact of the laundry service, Eddie Silverio, the Director of Youth Services at Catholic Charities’ Alianza Domenicana, said, “The machines will be a unique resource and support for our families that just can’t afford to wash their family’s clothes due to limited resources. It will also allow students to concentrate on their school work and educational experience, instead of being picked on due to dirty clothes.”

Let’s take this one level deeper.


Children living in poverty are less able to be prepared for school. Having clean clothing is but one part of that, but it is a significant part. With the impact clothing has on self-image (as Principal Poveda pointed out), standing out from the crowd in a negative way has a cascading effect on self-esteem and becomes a distraction that interferes with focus. The found that students who experience such a disadvantage in their early schooling tend to carry that disadvantage and its effects (and worse) with them as they get older. also says, “Children from lower-income families are more likely than students from wealthier backgrounds to have lower test scores, and they are at higher risk of dropping out of school. Those who complete high school are less likely to attend college than students from higher-income families. For some children, the effects of poverty on education present unique challenges in breaking the cycle of generational poverty and reduce their chances of leading rewarding, productive lives.”

Furthermore, the American Psychological Association tells us that homelessness is tied directly to food insecurity, poor mental health and missed educational opportunities. Homeless children are also at high risk for having been exposed to violence which in turn leads to depression, anxiety, withdrawal, or aggression and acting out. Laundry machines may not solve all those problems but they definitely address issues of self-image and so, in turn, mental health, which will improve performance and so on.


Catholic Charities of New York, sees the needs of young and disadvantaged New Yorkers and with your help brings services and programs like:

  • Catholic Youth Organization (CYO)
  • Community Centers
  • Day Care Programs
  • Foster Care
  • Mother-and-child residences
  • Food Banks
  • Preserving Housing
  • Permanent Affordable Housing
  • Temporary and Transitional residences
  • Emergency and Temporary shelter

Catholic Charities has over 100 years of experience identifying areas of need and then addressing them as best they can. All of that is possible because of people like you who support Catholic Charities New York, giving from your hearts to help others.

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