Palisade program makes clothing gifts to schools

Ron Nielsen holds up a new jacket that was purchased for donation to a school clothing closet in northern Minnesota.

A Palisade non profit that started as a way to help keep children occupied and off the streets is engaging in a new endeavor.

Ron Nielsen, owner of the former Palisade school building, is the CEO of Palisade PACKERS (Palisade Area Community Kids Education Resource Service). The 501(c)3 organization operates a kids center where children can gather to play games, learn new skills, and engage with the community through community service projects.

In 2019, Nielsen became aware of an opportunity to purchase new clothing that is being cleared out by retailers and donate it to high school free stores that are set up to help students who need personal care items, clothing, shoes, coats and even food.

“Many of the schools in northern Minnesota are populated by students from families that live below the poverty level. Industries in the area are seasonal, such as tourism, or reliant on mining or other extractive industries that are economically challenged right now,” said Nielsen.

He added, “I literally fell into this opportunity when Cyrus King Elementary in Deer River had an auction and I went to pick up some building materials for renovations at the school. The principal asked me if I had access to childrens clothing. He was concerned that kids come to school day after day, wearing the same clothes, only getting them washed on the weekend to be worn the following week.”

Nielsen went into action immediately, locating shoppers who are working behind the scenes to find clearance opportunities and purchase new clothing and shoes with funds Nielsen has received through his grant writing. The clothing is then donated to schools who request it.

Health equity means removing economic and social obstacles to health, such as poverty and discrimination, Nielsen explained.

“Kids coming to school each day wearing the same clothes for weeks at a time opens the door for bullying. This sort of bullying can cause a child to withdraw from others, including teachers. It instills in the child a sense of inferiority and the fear that they will always be a loser,” he added.

PACKERS donated 2,000 clothing items in December 2019 and another 2,000 in January of this year to the Deer River schools. The Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation asked Nielsen to visit the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school in Bena, where the school resource director said children come to school with shoes that are worn out, too big or too small. Nielsen has arranged for shoes to be donated to the school in time for the 2020-2021 school year.

The program has helped schools in Hibbing and Perham, and is engaged in talks with several other school districts.

School districts and tribes statewide have been asking to get into the program.  Called everything from “Room of Requirements” to “Care Closets,” schools are establishing these free stores for students to select clothing and other personal items they need.

Palisade PACKERS is able to take donations to help fund the clothing project, as well as for renovations to the school building.

Contact Ron Nielsen at 218-820-5135.

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