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Brock Elliott clothes closet serves homeless & other needy students
Brock Elliott School Principal Debbie Ruger, right, and parent volunteer Stacy Ochoa inspect the clothing racks at the Champions Closet. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Stacy Ochoa recently helped a family housed in a local shelter with five children on a shopping spree.

They ranged in age, from 11 months to 12 years old, making the appointment-only visit to the Champions’ Closet at Brock Elliott School in their time of need.

Ochoa, who is president of the Parents Teachers Association, made their experience at the on-campus thrift store – actually, everything is free – quite enjoyable.

“I helped one of the boys pick out a sweater,” she said on Friday. “He came out of the dressing room so excited about his choice.”

The Champions’ Closet has an assortment of gently used clothes for toddlers, children and teens. Ochoa has been in charge for the past two years, making sure that everything inside is stocked, clean and assorted.

Since the shopping is set up through an arrangement with the school, families can go about their business comfortably and anonymously.

The idea was formulated about five years ago by Debbie Ruger.

“I read (in the Bulletin) about Sierra High having an on-campus store with prom dresses,” she said.

Ruger, who has been principal at Brock Elliott for the past 13 years, certainly had the space on campus following Manteca Unified’s decision to do away with year-round schooling to that of a modified traditional schedule. “We went from a campus with over 1,200 students, to 800,” she said.

The parents took it from there, Ruger recalled, transforming a primary-grade classroom into a Goodwill-type store specifically for the homeless and needy of the district.

Leading the way during those early years was Ricci Patton, Lucy Arredondo and Cathy Willenbrink. All three are still at the school.

They relied on donations and volunteer help from the likes of Sierra High students looking to do community work and Brock Elliott students in the AVID program.

Ruger noted that her school has over a dozen students of the nearly 400 district-wide who are deemed homeless.

The Champions’ Closet isn’t exclusive to Brock Elliott families. Families from Sequoia School, French Camp School, Golden West School, to name a few, have been referred there by the various outreach programs and MUSD Health Services Department.

In recent years, similar-type stores in the district have sprung up. Included were the Hornets’ Clothes Closet at Shasta School, the Clothes Closet at the McParland Annex, and the Hawk’s Nest at Neil Hafley School.

Even the five comprehensive MUSD high schools – East Union, Manteca, Lathrop, Weston Ranch and Sierra – have on-campus Clothes Closets.

Ruger has been amazed at how her dream has evolved.

“It’s become bigger than I ever thought,” she said.