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'2023 has been difficult': MSU holds winter wear drive for underserved Lansing communities

October 31, 2023
The Winter Wear Drive Box at the Student Services Building on Oct. 17, 2023.
The Winter Wear Drive Box at the Student Services Building on Oct. 17, 2023.

MSU's Center for Engaged Student Learning is running a winter wear drive to collect outerwear donations for the Cristo Rey Community Center in Lansing. Students, faculty and staff can drop off all new and gently used hats, scarves, gloves and other outerwear gear to suite 101 in the Student Services Building until Nov. 10. 

Eternity Burton-George, the who works at Center for Engaged Student Learning as an AmeriCorps VISTA and helped organize the drive, was searching for nonprofits that focus on personal items when she found Cristo Rey Community Center. 

The center uses a community closet to supply clothes for people of all ages and genders, free of charge. Because the community closet is not for profit, it's entirely run by volunteers and relies on donations. 

Kelly Pino, the center's director for fund development, said many Lansing residents have suffered through inflation during this past year, especially after pandemic-era relief funding ended. With 29% of Lansing residents living in poverty, this places Michigan's capital city at a higher poverty level than the overall U.S. poverty rate of 11.5%. 

Pino said that as of Oct. 19, Cristo Rey has given 68,707 clothing items to the community in 2023. Comparatively, they distributed 39,407 items in all of 2022. 

"Every year, I think, '"s this gonna be the year people are really hurting?'" Pino said. "And it just seems like 2023 has been difficult."

Pino said that many people who use Cristo Rey's community closet and other services are often asset-limited, income-constrained and employed, otherwise known as ALICE, meaning their households earn above the federal poverty level but struggle to pay for basic necessities.

"If you're just affording your rent or you're just able to put food on the table for your family, all of these are things … (that) are really expensive," Pino said. "They're not affording clothing, (like) new coats or shoes or boots for kids."

Pino said that partnerships with other organizations, such as MSU, are necessary to provide these non-profit services. 

Specializing in student volunteer programs, MSU's Center for Community Engaged Learning Assistant Director K.C. Keyton said he hopes MSU will hold more clothing drives for Cristo Rey Community Center in the future.

"Cristo Rey was one of MSU's community partners to send students to volunteer pre-COVID," Keyton said. "When COVID hit, we kind of lost contact with them, but now we're reengaging with them to do more programming with them." 

Contributing to the winter wear drive doesn’t end at donating clothes. On Nov. 11, students can help the Center for Engaged Community Learning pack the donated items for delivery. 

"Those that donate, we're working on some sort of thank you card with information about Cristo Rey and some of our sustainable goals and why we chose Cristo Rey," Keyton said. "We're letting our students know that there's more to helping your communities than strictly volunteering … and there's a lot of work that still needs to be done."

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