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Elm Street Middle aims to meet basic needs

Staff photo by Hannah LaClaire Shanna LaFontaine runs the closet at Elm Street Middle School

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in an eight-part series about Catie’s Closet locations throughout the Nashua.

NASHUA – For Shanna LaFontaine, outreach counselor at Elm Street Middle School, the need for Catie’s Closet is simple: “Children can’t learn if they aren’t having their basic needs met.”

In the last three years that the school has had the closet, they have helped almost 700 children and their families, LaFontaine said.

Elm Street is the largest middle school in the district, roughly the size of the other two combined. The closet is used five or six days on average, with as many as 20 coming in when the temperature changes suddenly.

“We have so many different needs, we meet them wherever they are at,” she said. This could mean letting a student grab a new shirt after a spill, outfitting the entire family, or giving a kid a winter jacket if he isn’t dressed for the weather.

“If they need, they can take a bag home every day until they have what they need,” she said.

It has also “opened up a huge dialogue to what else families might need,” according to LaFontaine.

The space is shared by the food pantry, and the school also has a backpack program to feed kids on the weekend and a blanket program to help families in transition.

With the size of the school, she said they really feel the need and called the program “necessary.”