Armed with a striped navy blue blazer, UW-Eau Claire senior Catrena Choong was on a mission Thursday to find matching pants to wear to the university’s College of Business career conference next week.

“What about a skirt?” UW-Eau Claire freshman McKenna Kawski, who was helping Choong shop, asked when they couldn’t find something in Choong’s size.

“No, I don’t think I want a skirt, especially with winter coming up,” Choong replied. Thus, the search continued. 

But she wasn’t shopping at a high-end boutique or any store in the mall. Choong was exploring the depths of UW-Eau Claire’s new Campus Closet, which officially opened for business Tuesday in Schofield Hall. Her helper, Kawski, is the shop’s student intern this semester. 

Campus Closet offers professional clothes to students who might not otherwise be able to afford them, said university executive staff assistant Julie Carr, who supervises the shop as well as Campus Harvest Food Pantry, which is housed in the same location in the basement of Schofield Hall.

After chatting with a co-worker about students’ needs for clothing for job interviews, Carr said she figured, if the goal is to help students become successful, they might need more than food.

“Part of going to college is trying to find a good job afterward to support themselves and make it in the world, and it’s important how you present yourself in order to get a job — that’s just the reality of it,” Carr said. “It’d be nice if your personality and how you did in school would be all they were looking for, but employers are looking at the whole thing. By providing career clothes for our students, it gives them a sense of confidence.” 

They also give them help. Carr and Kawski walked among the racks of clothes, helping students find matching pieces and offering advice on what fit best to several students in the closet Thursday.

Campus Closet is open 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays alongside Campus Harvest in Schofield Hall 4. The food pantry is open 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays. Carr said the clothes are donated from on-campus faculty and staff as well as community members who have heard about the effort. Since she started planning for it this summer, she said, she has received hundreds of donations.  

With the career conference coming up, Carr said she sent an email to College of Business students suggesting Campus Closet if they needed nice clothes. They saw a very busy opening day Tuesday, and Carr said many of those students were looking for clothes for the conference. 

She expected Thursday would be similar, and she wasn’t wrong. Just minutes after Campus Closet opened at 3 p.m., it was flooded. The space, as its name suggests, is small, and Kawski had to ask students to wait in the food pantry until the shop emptied. 

Sophomore Chloe Knuth was among them, though she was happy to wait for the chance to find something for the career conference. 

“I wanted to see what they had because I don’t have any business clothes and I think they are usually super expensive,” Knuth said of why she stopped in. “We don’t really have anywhere else to go as college students who don’t have extra cash to buy these clothes, yet it’s a requirement, so where are we supposed to get it?” 

For UW-Eau Claire students, that answer is Campus Closet. Carr said students can take whatever items they need, but no more than one full outfit per semester. Like Campus Harvest, Carr said students must scan their Blugold ID whenever they pick up items so she can keep track. 

She isn’t sure yet how popular the shop will prove to be, but if the food pantry is any indication, the need is definitely there. Campus Harvest had 450 students registered at the end of the 2017-18 school year, including 94 on-campus students and 356 off-campus students. Carr said that number has increased significantly since 2014-15, when the food pantry had 125 registered students.

The food comes from donations as well as food drives put on by campus organizations and Feed My People Food Bank, which partners with Campus Harvest. Carr said she can purchase $10 worth of food for every $1 spent through Feed My People. 

The food and clothing goes a long way, Carr thinks. By providing the necessities, she said it allows students to continue paying for college. And she’ll keep doing that for as long as it takes.

“We’re hoping that by providing this we’re helping students get through that tight money situation, so they’ll stay in school and graduate and when they get out and get their job, they’ll pay it forward,” Carr said. “That’s the goal — keeping students in school.”

Contact: 715-833-9214, katy.macek@ecpc.com, @KatherineMacek on Twitter