When Jack and Barbara Gooch’s beloved granddaughter Kaitie died unexpectedly in October, they found themselves lost in a sea of grief. Searching for a life raft to pull themselves out, they decided to do the most unexpected thing — give back to a community that had always wrapped its arms around Kaitie.
At the beginning of March, the Gooches began distributing collection bins at businesses around town to collect gently used clothing and shoes for children. The donations are collected, laundered and distributed to local school-age children in need.
Jack said they came up with the idea for “Kaitie’s Closet” shortly after Kaitie, 13, who had cerebral palsy, died Oct. 3.
“She had so many clothes, two closets full,” Jack said, that we did not want to see them go to waste.
Pat Heizer, Payson Elementary School resource teacher, spoke with the Gooches and said the school had a number of children who needed clothes and could benefit from Kaitie’s wardrobe. The Gooches decided to part with some of Kaitie’s clothes before the holidays, and Heizer set up a “shopping day” for eight girls at the school.
After the holidays had passed, Jack said he was so lonesome he did not know what to do with himself without Kaitie, who he had taken care of for several years.
“Kaitie made a different person out of me,” he said. “She was quite the girl.”
Jack and Barbara decided the best thing to do was start a non-profit foundation in Kaitie’s name, dedicated to collecting and redistributing clothing to children in kindergarten through eight grade.
Jack told Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O’Brien about the idea and O’Brien said he would fully support the project, especially since there are some 360 homeless children in PUSD.
Jack said Kaitie’s Closet represents more than just clothes, it is a symbol of the community coming together to take care of its children in need.
So far, the community has overwhelmingly embraced the program, donating enough clothes to fill 10 large-sized bags in just a week.
Jack personally collects and launders everything that is donated. So far, he has washed 50 pounds of blue jeans.
The Gooches plan to donate the clothing to a different school each month. That school will lay out the clothes and let in-need children pick what they want. Any extra adult or baby clothes donated will be given to local organizations.
Collection boxes are located at Frontier, Payson and Julia Randall Elementary Schools, Rim Country Middle School, Alltel, Beeline Business Equipment, Payson Physical Therapy, Scoops Ice Cream and Espresso, Tiny’s Family Restaurant and at the Gooches’ home, 304 W. Corral Drive.
For more information or to donate or volunteer, call (928) 468-1036.
Monetary donations are greatly needed to support laundering costs and additional clothing items, including socks and underwear, Jack said.