By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — When Ashley Beyhl received a special education teaching position at an elementary school with a high rate of student poverty, she was saddened to see that many of her students did not have access to proper clothing.
“I have been blessed, and have a lot of things. Seeing students going to school with pants too small, no coats, or wearing the same clothes repeatedly … I wanted to help,” said the Our Lady of Victory parishioner, 30.
For the past three years, she has been working to give students at Hayes Elementary in Davenport access to new and used clothing items through Ms. B’s Boutique clothing drives.
It first started with Beyhl’s own classroom; knowing of her desire to help the students, family friends donated gently used children’s clothing, which she then donated to her students just before Christmas in 2011. The joy she felt from helping the students warmed her heart. “After Christmas break, they were wearing the clothes. I’d compliment them, and they were so proud. “
The following year, she began to wonder if her initiative could become an all-school project. Principal Sara Jane Gott said she and the staff were supportive of the project; Beyhl just needed to make sure she had enough clothing to give away. She discovered that people were eager to donate clothing “because they knew exactly where they were going: to kids at the school with the need.”
In spring 2013, Ms. B’s Boutique hosted its first school-wide clothing drive in the cafeteria. The children were allowed to pick out two outfits, and the drive served about 25 children. She hosted another clothing drive that fall and an additional two this year. “Each time it has grown,” she said, noting that as word of mouth about the project has spread, more clothing has become available to ensure the students are able to pick up additional outfits and clothing items.
While Beyhl is the driving force behind the project, she is helped by friends and family members who sort through and organize clothing donations in Beyhl’s basement. “I’m figuring out the process … I can’t do it all myself,” she said.
Other volunteers serve as personal shoppers at the drive. Beyhl said many of the students don’t know what size clothes they wear or how to try them on; they tend to go towards the clothing they like, rather than the clothing that will fit. The volunteers help the students find outfits they like that will also fit properly.
The program has been able to help students at other times of the year. Recently, a physical education teacher approached Beyhl to ask if she had any athletic shoes for a student whose shoe heels were flapping. After receiving a functioning pair from Ms. B’s Boutique, “Now he can run in gym class!” Beyhl said.
Word about the project has been spreading beyond the walls of Hayes Elementary School, recently having been featured in a Quad City Times column. Mid American Energy recently donated shopping bags for the clothing drives, and people from outside her social circle, including Girl Scouts from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, have been sending clothing donations. Beyhl hopes to host another clothing drive at the school before winter, if enough donations come in; those wishing to donate clothing items can find Ms. B’s Boutique on Facebook.
For Beyhl, the clothing drives are a way to express the Gospel’s call to serve the poor, and an example of how teachers can go beyond their normal duties to serve their students. “This is why I teach, and this is the kind of person I want to be — one that helps others.”
Principal Gott is enthusiastic in her praise for Beyhl’s efforts to help the students. “Her devotion and generosity to have Ms. B’s Boutique is above and beyond what anyone could ever imagine at our school … her hard work is obvious and love to give back to our school community is absolutely incredible.”