Cougar Closet tackles clothing insecurity at UH
Cougar Closet, a new service on campus, is aiming to help tackle clothing insecurity among students, and it all started from the passion of a rising graduate.
Public health senior Kelechi Iroegbu had just helped gather over 2500 articles of clothing in support of Star of Hope. Along with the teamwork and effort of his fellow residential advisers and residents across campus, a clothing drive was hosted in February 2020.
This wasn’t enough for Iroegbu though. In the weeks after the initiative, he started thinking that the campus in itself is not immune to clothing insecurity.
“I know, there’s people on campus that could benefit from having clothes,” Iroegbu said. “I feel like it’s almost overlooked. I figured there has to be a way that I can replicate this, but have it implemented to benefit our students.”
By May 2020, Iroegbu had typed up a proposal for this idea to become a legitimate resource on campus, Cougar Closet.
Iroegbu’s biggest challenge wasn’t creating the proposal or the budget for his project, but having to compromise to make it happen.
“I wanted a lot when it came to Cougar Closet,” Iroegbu said. “I wanted my own space (and) I wanted all of these different things. I guess that hurdle was not being able to get everything I wanted, and still bringing Cougar Closet to life on a tight budget.”
Aside from the budget being tight, COVID-19 put a wrench in Iroegbu’s plans, only recently allowing the closet to be open to the campus community.
“I would say COVID had a huge part in it being delayed until now,” Iroegbu said. “It just wasn’t the right time, to be honest. A week before I even got all the racks and everything I had to do the clothing drive. Imagine doing that clothing drive in the midst of the pandemic when cases are rising, that would have been crazy.”
Regardless of the hurdles he had to go through, the payoff was worth it to see students being able to utilize the resource he created, Iroegbu said.
“This is just so surreal,” Iroegbu said. “Coming up with this proposal two years ago and now seeing it come to life and seeing what I wrote down unfold in front of my eyes, it’s crazy.”
The response to Cougar Closet has been overwhelmingly positive with parents, UH faculty and even faculty at other universities reaching out to donate as well as students grateful for the closet, Iroegbu said.
Even after he graduates, Iroegbu hopes that the closet doesn’t lose momentum and continues to serve those on campus, and possibly the greater community through HISD. If Iroegbu gets accepted into his desired program at UH-Clear Lake, he plans to expand the closet to help students on that campus as well.
“I know we’ll have an impact here and at UH-Clear Lake, but I think it’s huge to target the youth,” Iroegbu said. “Students in these elementary schools, middle schools and high schools, they’re the ones that can really benefit from this. Building that self esteem, building that self confidence at a young age, I believe is huge.”