SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Andrew Reese was a 16 year old Shrewsbury High School Junior who was killed in a tragic car accident on December 7, 2010. Andy was a thoughtful, kind person who actively showed his compassion by reaching out to teenagers and kids in need. In Andy’s memory and honor, Andy’s Attic was developed by his parents, Darrell and Lisa Reese shortly after his death.
I had heard about the accident and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I did not know the Reese family but my heart went out to them being a parent and living so close to them in town. In February of 2011, I had heard that the Reese Family had started a clothing donation organization in Andy’s memory and was looking for volunteers to help out to get clothing out to needy teenagers in the city. Being a teacher at South and living in Shrewsbury I immediately felt the need to help out. The Reese family originally began their organization in the upstairs bedrooms of their home in Shrewsbury. Quickly the donations came in and their home was completely filled with gently used donated clothing from generous Shrewsbury parents. From their home, the Reese family acquired donated space in Shrewsbury to move all of their clothing in and make it the new home of Andy’s Attic. Many people helped move the clothing, racks, shelves and boxes of clothing to the new warehouse. Orders came in fast and furiously and Andy’s Attic was generously giving teenagers in Shrewsbury and surrounding communities hefty bags of clothing, shoes, coats and new undergarments. As Andy’s Attic grew, my orders grew and I found myself passionately involved and loving the feeling of giving to my students. In the school year 2012, I myself filled 190 bags for our South High kids alone. We found that behind every teenager in need, there was an entire family in need, so we helped everyone who asked for clothing, and at times we helped out even more. I had a student who shyly approached my for clothing, requesting a form to fill out. He filled out the form and the next day I told him his bag was ready to take home. He was so shy about receiving clothing and did not want to take the bus. So I drove him home and he told me about his family and how he had just arrived here from Ghana. After some conversation, I came to realize that the family had no furniture, and no clothing. They had basically arrived from Africa with the clothes on their backs. I made a call to our Principal, Maureen Binenda and she let the staff know at South and within a week, the family of 5 had clothing, bedding, and furniture, all from the donations of staff members and Andy’s Attic. I was so happy to have been able to help this family in need. I still see this student in the halls occasionally and he always greets me with a wide smile of appreciation.
With things going well, and Andy’s Attic helping so many families and donations coming in, I was notified in the summer of 2013 that the Reese Family was moving to Florida in the fall. Lisa Reese asked me if I would be interested in taking the organization over. I thought about it for a few days and there was no way that I could let the organization go. I have seen too many families and teenagers receive much needed clothing and I couldn’t imagine telling my students that Andy’s Attic was closed. I immediately called my principal to let her know that I was planning on taking over and asked for help. Maureen generously offered me space at South High School so we could make it easier for me to take orders, fill orders and get the clothing to the students in the city instead of filling the bags in Shrewsbury. The space that was available needed to be cleaned out from years of school supplies and work started in the summer to get the room ready. In the fall of 2013, with the help of the Worcester Housing Authority, Unum volunteers and volunteers from the Hanover Theater we packed up the warehouse full of clothing and shoes into a box truck an made our trek to our new home at South High School while 30 South High students were waiting to unload the truck. I was amazed by the generosity and warmth from volunteers and staff. The students at South High have made Andy’s Attic what it is today. They not only unloaded the truck, organized each and every shelf in our new space, filled about 90 orders so far, and are now donating their own clothing. We are now completely settled and up and running. We filled about 30 bags just last week and distributed them to families in Shrewsbury, students at South High, North High, Doherty, the Gerald Creamer Center, Chandler Elementary, DFC, the Red Cross, Belmont Community School, and Union Hill Elementary School. We are growing so quickly and helping so many.
If you come to visit Andy’s Attic at South High School during community service time which is daily and after school on Tuesday’s and Thursdays, you will witness amazing things going on: compassion, empathy, friendship, dedication and hard work. Each student who comes for community service is dedicated and serious about their task at hand. Some students will put donation bags away on shelves to replenish our stock, some students will work with a partner filling a bag of clothing for a needy student, some will sweep, empty trash and do different jobs that need to be done. The dedication is evident in the room and each student knows they are helping someone and that they are making difference. I remind them each time they leave Andy’s Attic that “they did a wonderful thing today…you helped someone. Feel good about what you did today.” We have a giving tree in the corner with 40 smiling faces on each branch. The faces represent the students who have given their time and have earned community service hours. Each student with a star next to their name represents 10 hours of earned community service. Each day when I walk into Andy’s Attic and turn on the lights, the tree is the first thing I see and It warms my heart to see all of their smiling faces.
Bringing Andy’s Attic to South High has brought this charity to a new level. I cannot imaging my life without it. The people that I have met through picking up donations and having great conversations with them, the students and their families who looked at me with tears in their eyes and hugged me so tight thanking them for helping their families and the realization in this life that “people are good.” Liz Murray, who wrote, “From Homeless to Harvard,” stated this in her seminar in the fall and those words stuck with me. People are good and are willing to help, and when you get a group of people who are passionate about something it becomes contagious.
Since our article in the Telegram and Gazette my email and phone have been ringing off the hook with people who want to donate and help out. My car and my garage are always full of bags of clothing from generous people who drop off bags of beautiful gently use clothing. Monetary donations have helped out more than people know. I was able to purchase many kids coats, hats, mittens, gloves, pajamas and undergarments. Though we are always in need of new items.
People are good.
*Many students who have received bags are the ones who want to give back through community service at Andy’s Attic.
*When students fill a bag for a needy teen, adult or child, it is always confidential.
*Students follow steps when filling a bag. “What’s in a bag” is posted on the wall and students are told to stuff a bag full of all of the required seasonal items, when in stock. Students usually receive a weeks worth of seasonal clothing including new undergarments, a winter coat, gloves, hat, jeans, sweaters, hooded sweatshirts, pajamas, sweatpants etc…
*We love monetary donations! With this, we can purchase new undergarments, new sneakers, boots, hats and gloves.
*Donations can be dropped off at South High School or arrangements can be made for donations to be picked up.
*Students come for community service during their study periods with permission from their teachers.
*We recently had a bake sale that raised over $500.00 from food and deserts made from South High Students.
*South High staff members are very generous! When I am low on items I post it through email what is needed and teachers immediately donate the next morning!
*I am so proud of each and every student who has helped me to make what Andy’s Attic is today.
South High Community School