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Ken-Ton Closet Opens New Location at Jefferson Elementary

Thursday, August 1 marked the beginning of a new era at the former Jefferson Elementary School as the Ken-Ton Closet officially opened its doors to the public at a ribbon-cutting ceremony preceding its grand re-opening at the new location. The Ken-Ton Closet previously operated out of three rooms in the Sheridan Parkside Community Center and now occupies an entire wing on the second floor of the former school building.

The Ken-Ton Closet is led by founder/director Dr. Jill O’Malley, who also serves as the Ken-Ton School District Board of Education president. Cutting the ribbon alongside Dr. O’Malley and nearly two dozen of the Ken-Ton Closet’s active volunteers was assistant director Cathy McLeod. Joining them were Steve Bovino, Ken-Ton School District Superintendent of Schools; Kevin Hardwick, who represents District 4 in the Erie County Legislature; Joseph Emminger, Town of Tonawanda Supervisor; and William Conrad, a Kenmore West High School teacher who also serves as a Town of Tonawanda Town Councilman.

Dr. O’Malley expressed her heartfelt gratitude for the hard work and dedication of all of the Ken-Ton Closet’s many volunteers as well as assistant director Cathy McLeod. She also expressed her appreciation for the support the Ken-Ton Closet has received in partnership with the Ken-Ton School District, the Town of Tonawanda, and Ken-Ton’s two representatives in the Erie County Legislature, Legislator Hardwick and Erie County Legislator and former Chairman Peter Savage.

“We have many community partners that we are lucky to work with on behalf of our Ken-Ton kids,” Dr. O’Malley said.

Dr. O'Malley founded the Ken-Ton Closet in 2013 as a means of improving the quality of life for children and families in need in the Ken-Ton community by providing them with everyday items such as clothing, school supplies, and toiletries free of charge. The organization has grown tremendously over the years and now serves hundreds of children each year with support from volunteers and donors, grant funding, the Town of Tonawanda, and Erie County.

The Ken-Ton Closet’s new location includes several rooms dedicated to displaying the thousands of clothing items available for children of all ages which guests may browse. There are separate rooms for year-round items as well as seasonal items like summer and winter clothing and even Halloween costumes, as well as dedicated spaces for particular items such as pajamas and socks/underwear. There are additional spaces dedicated to processing the countless donations that come from across the Ken-Ton community throughout the year, a monumental undertaking performed by the Ken-Ton Closet’s dedicated volunteers.

Jefferson Elementary was one of 16 elementary schools constructed in the Ken-Ton School District during the 1950s and 1960s to accommodate the explosive growth in student enrollment as the Village of Kenmore and Town of Tonawanda were rapidly developed in the post-World War II era. With virtually no land left for new development, most of those schools that opened at such an extraordinary pace eventually closed in the 1970s and 1980s as the population leveled off and student enrollment decreased. One of those schools was Jefferson Elementary, which reopened in 1986 due to a surge in elementary school enrollment and remained open until 2013.

Since its closing in 2013, Jefferson Elementary has been used by the Ken-Ton School District for storage and has occasionally been used for training purposes by emergency response personnel, but has remained vacant. The building was given new life when it was announced in February that the Town of Tonawanda would begin leasing the building for its after-school and summer youth programming, followed by the Ken-Ton Closet.

The process of moving from the Sheridan Parkside Community Center to the Jefferson building spanned weeks and was only made possible with the help of many volunteers including Ken-Ton School District Buildings and Grounds personnel. They spent countless hours preparing the new space at the former Jefferson Elementary building, moving donation items, and putting the finishing touches on the organization’s new home.

The Ken-Ton Closet is located on the north side of the former Jefferson Elementary School building at 250 Athens Blvd. The entrance is located in back of the building along Oakvale Boulevard (Door #2). Regular hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and the second Thursday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m. from September to June. All children up to age 18 who live in the Village of Kenmore or Town of Tonawanda are eligible, and families may visit every other month. You can find the Ken-Ton Closet on Facebook @KenTonCloset and on the web at www.kentoncloset.org.