The Underground Clothing Connection, a free clothing store in Sunrise Mall, has served students and families in need in the San Juan Unified School District (SJUSD) for the past three months since its opening.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the many struggles associated with insecure housing.
The Citrus Height Homelessness Assistance Resource Team (HART) recognized that, in addition to food and shelter, clothing is an essential need for students experiencing homelessness or living in transition without permanent housing.
The organization began collaborating with SJUSD’s McKinney-Vento program, which provides educational provisions for homeless students, to create a clothing resource.
What originally started as an idea for a mobile closet turned into an entire store in Sunrise Mall and the Underground Clothing Connection was born.
The store operates entirely on donations and volunteer work. On Wednesdays from 11:00-4:00 pm and Saturdays from 11:00-3:00 pm, students and their families are able to browse through a plethora of clothing and take what they need.
Because of safety precautions brought on by the pandemic, the Underground Clothing Connection is only available to students through appointment and is currently scheduling two families per hour.
SJUSD students simply need to reach out to their school counselors or the school district to be referred to the store.
Although the program has a focus on SJUSD, any student in Citrus Heights also may call or email the store to set up an appointment.
When the students arrive, they can expect to walk into a beautifully organized store, complete with clothes for all ages. The volunteers have done such a great job setting up and maintaining the store that even ordinary mall-walkers wander in to shop.
Kaylon McBride, co-chairperson at the Underground Clothing Connection, explained that families are “really surprised and shocked when they come [that it] doesn’t look like a thrift store. This is real; this looks like a real store.”
One of the biggest motivations for McBride is being able to treat students and families with the dignity and respect they deserve.
“We received a beautiful text message from one of our families that […] thanked us and said ‘you guys treated us like we were real people.’ It just touched my heart because so many of these families do feel stigmatized. They feel looked down upon, and we treat them like royalty when they come to our store,” she said.
Citrus Height HART is looking forward to further serving these students and families. According to McBride, the original mobile closet will still be launching sometime in February.
The Underground Clothing Connection is always looking for more volunteers and donations. McBride hopes that eventually they will be able to expand store hours and reach a wider network of those in need.