2005-2011: A Teacher’s Vision to Make a Difference, One Student at a Time
In the fall of 2005, a recent college graduate (we’ll call her Margaret) began what had long been her dream job—teaching kindergarten to an underserved population. She chose to begin her teaching career in an impoverished school (one with a free-and-reduced lunch rate that hovered around 95%), with a student population beset with all the problems commonly associated with poverty—homelessness, food insecurity, lack of appropriate clothing for school, inadequate healthcare, etc. She quickly realized that her teacher training had not addressed the realities of teaching students who were struggling mightily outside the classroom.
Margaret shared her concerns with her mother (we’ll call her Susan). Together they decided that they would focus on providing one of these basic needs and thus make at least a small difference, one student at a time. It was late September, cooler weather had arrived, and Margaret had noticed that many of the children continued to wear the same short-sleeved shirts and shorts and did not seem to have sweaters or jackets. What would they do when it got really cold? Margaret and Susan set out to acquire a winter coat for each child in the class. They purchased coats from store sales and thrift shops, and before the temperatures dropped to freezing, Margaret was able to send a coat home with each child in her class. Some of the coats came back the next day, as it was not clear to the families that the coat was a gift for the child to keep. The school’s social worker prepared a note explaining that the coats were donations from the community and were the children’s to keep; a copy of the note was inserted into the pocket of each donated item. And so began the project that eventually became Note in the Pocket.
It started as a one-family ministry providing coats for a single classroom in a single school to which they had a personal connection. However, additional family members, then neighbors and friends, then even strangers heard about the ministry and wanted to participate. The next year the coat donations covered all the kindergarten classes. And the ministry kept growing, so that by the third year, all the students in the school received a coat before winter began. The school social worker helped to organize the coats so that each child could select one; after the first year, each coat had a “note in the pocket” to confirm that the children were to keep the coats.
2011-2016: Official Nonprofit Status and a New Executive Director
In August 2011, Dallas Bonavita saw an announcement in her church bulletin requesting coat donations for the upcoming fall. She met with Susan, listened to her story, and began envisioning a model for continuous but controlled incoming donations and outgoing clothing packages. Following a highly successful summer clothing drive, she recognized that the greatest immediate need was for more storage space than Susan’s house could accommodate. Within a few weeks Note in the Pocket had an offer from North Raleigh Ministries to use a former small classroom in their crisis center, from which we operated until a philanthropic businessman kindly offered a larger space.
In the spring of 2012 Note in the Pocket became an official ministry under the auspices of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, which meant that donors could receive tax benefits from clothing and monetary donations. In the meantime we applied for our own nonprofit status, which was granted in August 2013. Dallas was named Executive Director. We have experienced tremendous growth in every subsequent year.
2017-Present: New Partnerships Continued Growth
Note in the Pocket now works with the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) social workers and the case managers from 12 other agencies, including Family Promise of Wake County (formerly Wake Interfaith Hospitality Network), The Salvation Army, The Caring Place, and Communities in Schools, that serve the homeless and impoverished.
In 2017, we provided clothing packages for over 4000 individuals, mostly children, throughout all twelve cities and towns in Wake County. We delivered 89,564 donated items of clothing and shoes, the total of which was valued at nearly $650,000. To accommodate our continuing growth, at the end of 2017 we also acquired additional adjacent space that expanded our Volunteer Center work and storage space to a 7200 square foot facility.
Our Vision for the Future
Our future plans include increasing our community support through item-specific, high quality, school-appropriate clothing donations, volunteer manpower and funding to support the operation and growth of our program in an effort to continue to reach an additional 500 individuals each year. We are also working toward building clothing distribution centers to help increase our impact numbers locally, while developing a clothing distribution model that can eventually be replicated in other counties in North Carolina and perhaps, one day, nationally.