El Camino College Reopens Warrior Closet

May 6, 2022 Torrance, CA

El Camino College recently reopened its successful Warrior Closet, offering a variety of free clothing for students, including professional and casual wear, children’s clothes, shoes, accessories, and bedding items. After closing for two years due to COVID-19, the Warrior Closet opened again under the leadership of El Camino financial aid adviser Sharonda Barksdale, with the goal to ensure that limited clothing does not hold students back from achieving their academic goals.

“We are open to every student, and they are welcome to take items for their family as well,” said Barksdale, who serves as the foster youth and homeless liaison in the Financial Aid Office.

“When we first started, a student was shopping and noticed some men’s dress shirts. She said her father had a job interview and asked if she could take a shirt for him. I told her to take anything she needed. If this student is worried about her dad’s job interview, she can’t concentrate on her own education. That is my thought process that guides what we do at the Warrior Closet.”

Through her work with students experiencing homelessness, Barksdale heard that they needed appropriate clothes to wear to job interviews, so in 2018 she gathered donated items and offered a twice monthly “pop-up shop” for that purpose. As she did this, she learned that another college was closing its clothing closet and offered to donate the entire contents – racks and all – to the growing El Camino program. Additional donations came in from the college community, and soon the venture expanded to include everyday clothing, coats, shoes, and other necessities.

Two weeks into the reopening, students have been lining up before the doors open. The first week alone recorded 120 student visitors and more than 800 items were distributed, from shoes and clothes to purses, ties, sweaters, and children’s clothing.

The Warrior Closet now operates in its new permanent location in MBBM 130, near the Warrior Pantry, which offers healthy food items and toiletries to all students. Both the Warrior Closet and Warrior Pantry are open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, part of a network of basic needs resources enrolled students can access as they work to balance personal responsibilities with the pressures of homework, classes, college fees, and books. In the future, the goal is to add representatives from agencies that provide services that benefit students such as housing assistance and legal advice.

Everything in the Warrior Closet is donated. Additional clothing donations come in quarterly through a partnership with a community-based agency that provides resources for organizations that work with homeless individuals. Another influx of donated career wear for men and women came from Shiraz Kahlid and Dave Zygielbaum, South Bay attorneys that Barksdale met at a college event. Kahlid and Zygielbaum led a clothing drive that brought in several bags of suits, ties, shirts, and other business attire.

Feedback from students so far has been overwhelmingly positive; Barksdale has several “regulars” who visit often and enjoy finding just the right item. A new trend she’s noticed since the reopening is an increased number of men shopping, so now she is looking specifically to stock items for them. Sometimes the shopping experience brings remarkable discoveries.

“One student was recently browsing, and she asked me ‘how much,’ for a sweater,” Barksdale said. “I told her, ‘This is a free service, if you need something, please take it.’ She was so surprised, her mouth dropped to the floor. She couldn’t believe all this was available to her.”

Barksdale now operates the Warrior Closet with just one assistant; she’s looking to hire student workers, part of her goal to have the enterprise entirely run by students. These days, as soon as the racks are stocked, they are emptied. Barksdale notes that this response speaks volumes to the need students have for these services.

“Now that things are opening up again, everything costs more, from groceries to gas, and many safety nets are going away,” she said. “We can clearly see the need to help our students outside of the traditional concept of education. I try to approach student learning with a holistic perspective. We have to take care of their basic needs first. If students are thinking about food, shelter, and clothing, how can we expect them to focus on their education?”

For more information about the Warrior Closet, or to schedule a time to deliver donations, contact Sharonda Barksdale at sbarksdale@elcamino.edu. Read about the Warrior Closet online at www.elcamino.edu/warriorcloset and learn about El Camino College’s basic needs resources at www.elcamino.edu/support/resources/basics/.

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