The phone call left Riley Field sobbing, but then inspired her to action.

The 21-year-old Field had learned from Katie Krantz, the Lewiston School System’s homeless resources coordinator, that 111 elementary school students, 79 high school students, and 19 middle school students were homeless.

Field’s ambitions to reduce fashion waste and to help Maine students combined to become a tangible mission.

“To put it most simply, it’s to reduce waste of clothing where the need is so high elsewhere to hopefully directly impact the lives of kids who need the things we’re just throwing away,” Field said.

Field, a 2016 Messalonskee High School graduate, is finishing up her degree in kinesiology/exercise science at the University of Maine this fall. She captained the Black Bears’ Division 1 field hockey team last year to cap her four-year college sports career. The Sidney native, who grew up with five siblings, wants to be a physical therapist. Now she has a new project that she calls Sustain for Students.

“I was thinking on the other side of it, how can girls or guys in college repurpose their clothing?” Field said. “I was thinking how are we going to use the items that college kids’ friends don’t want, so that’s what made me think of the school systems. That’s the way I could reach the most kids in one go.”

Field has already built the project’s internet footprint, creating an Instagram account and a GoFundMe page to pay for the cost of driving across the state to pick up donations and for potential future storage costs. Pickups of clothing and shoes can also be set up via email at [email protected] Field asks that donations come in reusable boxes, if possible, to limit the use of plastic bags.

“On top of the issues of kids needing clothes, one of the things I am trying to help with is fashion waste,” Field said. “Whatever I don’t use because I might get some impractical items that kids won’t use — like a crop top — those items I am going to try to post on Instagram and resell (to put money back into the project) so basically I am not going to waste anything.”

AN IDEA IN ACTION

A project like this has been on Field’s mind for some time. As a college student, Field sees plenty of clothes go to waste during moving periods on and off college campuses.

“When you’re moving out of your apartment — and I think this happens a lot — people don’t think and throw stuff in the dumpster because you’re just trying to move,” Field said. “I was thinking how can you use these clothes without throwing them away?”

Field recently contacted some of the largest school districts in the state. While some districts, including Bangor and Augusta, expressed concerns about accepting clothing donations, all that she heard from demonstrated a level of need for now or the future.

Krantz notified Field of Lewiston’s Success Closet at Conners Elementary School, which provides clothing and more for students in need. Lewiston High School also has had the Store Next Door for more than 20 years.

“It runs 100% on community donations. It would not exist if we (did not have) people continuing to cycle in stuff,” said Jamie Caouette, director of the Store Next Door. “We know that the needs are so high, so we continue to do it.”

Riley Field carries bags of donated clothing she picked up Monday from southern to central Maine. The clothing — stored at her family’s home in Sidney — is for homeless students in Lewiston. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Kelli Deveaux, director of communications at the state Department of Education, said it’s crucial for Maine children to have adequate clothing suitable to the seasons.

“Children are sadly impacted by the effects of poverty and home insecurity, which can leave them without the basic provisions that every person needs, such as clothing,” Deveaux said. “For our students, having clothing that is responsive to Maine’s ever changing weather conditions is needed for physical safety, but also having access to clothing, similar to their peers, can support the social/emotional well-being of students.”

Field takes care when handling and delivering the clothes, complying with coronavirus health and safety regulations. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, coronavirus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets and lasts on harder surfaces for up to three days. According to Houston Methodist Hospital, the spread of viruses is less successful through soft surfaces such as clothing fabric and advises that when in doubt laundering is effective.

In her first few days of operation this week, Field has collected more than a dozen bags of clothing and plans to pick up more. She’s trekking up and down the state, from Portland to Bangor, to pick up donations. After picking up the clothes or shoes, she sorts them. Next, she’ll look to deliver.

FACEBOOK POST GETS EFFORT ROLLING

The project took off after Field posted a description of her project on the Sidney town Facebook group on Aug. 21. A few days later, local residents pledged a slew of donations, and Field drove around the town to 10 addresses, usually picking up two trash bags full of donations per household.

Riley Field carries bags of donated clothing that she picked up Monday at a friend’s home in Sidney. The clothing Field picks up — 11 stops Monday from southern to central Maine — will be given to homeless students in Lewiston. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Sidney community members want to make sure Field’s efforts do not go unnoticed.

“It’s great to know that there are people in our community that take the time to care for others,” said Stasha Baldwin, a Sidney resident who plans on donating this week. “Life can be so hectic that it can be difficult to take time for others.”

Crystal Arbour, whose daughter Peyton teamed with Field and others to set a track relay record at Messalonskee, has watched Field grow into the community-first mindset.

“To see her now as a young adult giving back to her community gives us all great pride,” Arbour said. “You can see what a caring individual she is and her passion for this population in our community.”

Aurilia Hartin, a working mother of two, lauded Field’s efforts in physically picking up each and every donation.

“She actually messaged me yesterday and asked me my location because she offered to pick up, which I think is amazing because I am always on the go with my job and my children,” Hartin said. “I think it’s amazing to see someone in our community offer to do such an amazing thing to help our families who truly need it. It’s not very often we get that, especially lately during this pandemic.” 

In Orono, many of her former field hockey teammates are sifting through their wardrobes to find donations. One teammate, Brooke Sulinski, has two bags waiting.

Field plans on continuing the project for the remainder of the year. In the winter, she’ll focus on winter clothing, such as jackets and boots. She expects that continuing her effort will give her the opportunity to impact more areas, including those that are not currently comfortable with receiving donations.

“Originally I was thinking of just college kids, but now a bunch of people from around Maine are coming with different clothes and different sizes,” Field said. “When those schools are able to take it again, maybe in the winter, I’m hopefully going to be able to put some stuff on reserve for schools that can’t take it now and maybe can in the future.”


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