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Dorchester’s needy students get a hand with basic staples

Denise Trombly and her sister Mickey Cockrell set up Catie’s Closet at the Mathers School. They are both aunts of Catie Bisson, in whose memory the charity is named. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Children living in poverty can face a stigma at school because they lack the necessities they need to succeed. On Friday, one Boston school took a step toward meeting some of those needs.

The Mather Elementary School in Dorchester celebrated the opening of space that provides clothing, toiletries, and other supplies for needy or homeless students. It is operated by Catie’s Closet, a nonprofit that runs three dozen such spaces in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The Mather space is the first in the Boston public schools.

“Lack of clothing and basic necessities is really one of the top reasons why students are absent from school,” said Mickey Cockrell, a cofounder of Catie’s Closet, at Friday’s opening. “We want to help students fit in, to build that self-esteem, and really allow students to concentrate on school rather than the barriers to school.”


In a bright-yellow closet, students can find toiletries, uniform items, and other clothing. When students walk in, they are greeted by the message of “Never let anyone dull your sparkle” pasted on the wall. Mather students wear uniforms: khaki pants and blue polo shirts.

“This amazing space will be vital in helping some of our most vulnerable students,” Superintendent Tommy Chang said.

The organization’s name honors the daughter of cofounder Anne-Marie Bisson, Catie, who died at age 20 of a connective tissue disorder.

Bisson said the idea behind Catie’s Closet occurred to her when her daughter’s old school, Lowell High School, contacted her to create a scholarship in Catie’s name. Bisson felt that a scholarship did not help enough students, so she and her sisters decided to create the first closet.

“I kept thinking of a conversation that Catie and I had about the homeless kids at Lowell High, and when I asked her, ‘Did you know anyone who was homeless?’ She said, ‘Of course I did, Mom, but they just want to be like everybody else,’ ” Bisson said.


Mather’s assistant principal, Karyn Stranberg, said the school is expecting many families to take advantage of the closet.

“Catie’s Closet will be wonderful; we have a lot of children that will benefit,” she said. “It’s been an all-summer project and it’s nice to see that the finishing touches are being put on today so we can start using it soon.”

Olivia Quintana can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @oliviasquintana.