Many students enjoy wearing their school colors to show off their school pride.

But some students can’t afford to buy extra gear with school logos.

Those two conflicting concepts provided the impetus behind a new effort at Eau Claire North High School to provide spirit wear for students who can’t afford it. The gear is being collected in a space at the school cleverly named the Husky WearHouse.

The idea came about recently as parent volunteer Christy Riley-Wittig and North partnership coordinator Janelle Patenaude were discussing plans for the annual all-night party for graduating seniors. When Riley-Wittig mentioned she was planning to sell a bunch of Husky gear at a garage sale after the graduation this spring of Brooke, the last of her four children to go through North, Patenaude remarked that she has escorted some low-income students to a clothing giveaway offered by a local church the past couple of years.

Riley-Wittig promptly said she’d be happy to donate excess North clothing her family had accumulated over the years.

Further brainstorming led to the women proposing the creation of the Husky WearHouse to provide free donated Husky gear to students who otherwise might not be able to afford it.

It’s a brilliant idea — and one that I could envision being duplicated at other area schools — that will match eager students with outgrown or forgotten gear that might just have collected dust in the back of someone’s closet.

“When you go to an assembly and you have on Husky blue, you feel like part of the North team, and we want everyone to feel like part of the team,” Riley-Wittig said.

Sense of belonging

School counselors and officials immediately endorsed the idea.

“Giving all students the opportunity to wear Husky gear promotes school spirit,” said North counselor Dave Reidt. “With it goes a sense of belonging and hopefully increases their sense of school pride.”

Patenaude already has begun to collect Husky wearables, graduation gowns and caps, and cash donations that will be used to buy new items for the Husky WearHouse. She also has reached an agreement with Savers and Hope Gospel Mission to share any North clothing donations they receive with the project.

“We really want it to be nice stuff that students would want to wear walking down the halls or to pep assemblies and athletic events,” said Patenaude, who intends to work with counselors and teachers to identify students who would benefit from access to the free Husky gear. 

With the latest state Department of Public Instruction statistics showing that 36 percent of North students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, the need is apparent.

Cost is no issue

“Everyone should be able to show their Husky pride without worrying about if they can afford it,” Patenaude said.  

Other positive aspects of the project are that it’s a green initiative that promotes reusing forgotten items and that it has given rise to a charitable spirit among several students, including Brooke, who have volunteered to help decorate the Husky WearHouse and get it ready for its first customers. 

I know this North alumnus and parent of two recent North grads will be digging in my closet to see what items might make good additions to the growing Husky WearHouse inventory, although my family already has depleted our stash of Carolina blue clothing by informally donating gear to needy students through caring teachers. 

All of this has the potential to bring about tangible results that go far beyond showing team spirit at sporting events.

“If indeed wearing school gear can increase a sense of belonging,” Reidt said, “then students might experience more academic success in wanting to represent themselves and their school in a positive manner.”

Now that’s a cause we all can rally behind.

Contact: 715-833-9209,, @ealscoop on Twitter


Anyone interested in donating money or gently used North High School gear to the Husky WearHouse can drop it off at the school’s main office or contact partnership coordinator Janelle Patenaude at or 715-852-6607.