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Fitting in: BHS clothes closet offers students a warmer winter

There’s a room tucked in the back of the Beatrice High School media center that’s almost like a clothing store, except everything inside is free for students who need it.

The BHS clothes closet is stocked with donated sweaters, jeans, slacks, dress shirts, t-shirts, hoodies, sneakers, dress shoes, coats and other items that students can grab when they’re in need of something to wear. What's more, the closet is full of clothes that high school student wouldn’t mind wearing to class.

The closet is about the size of an apartment bedroom and it's filled, floor-to-ceiling, with shelves of clothes that are sorted and labeled with sizes, gender and style.

The room is open to any student who asks.

Carol Oltman, media specialist at the high school, said that when a student comes up to her and asks to use the closet, she’ll tell them to take whatever they need.

“They'll walk out with their backpack full and say ‘thank you,’” Oltman said. “I don't look, I don't judge, I don't care. You take what you need.”

The closet got its start a few years back when teachers saw a need, Oltman said. They talked with Principal Jason Sutter about making some space for it, and started bringing in clothes to stock the shelves.

Starting with a few bags of warm coats and winter clothing, the closet opened up as a way for kids to get the clothes they’d need but perhaps couldn't afford, Oltman said.

“We had no idea what it would look like or how big it would get,” she said. “It's big.”

Large bookshelves line the entirety of the room, covering the walls. All the shelves are full to the point that there is overflow, with still-bagged extra clothes waiting to be folded, sorted and taken home by students.

But need comes in many forms, Sutter said. Sometimes, students who use the closet can’t afford clothes, but sometimes students need a change of clothes for a specific class.

“We have some boys who are in welding, and they have to wear jeans in welding,” Oltman said. “It used to be, the kids would say, 'I don't have jeans on, I can't weld,' They can go to the closet to get a pair of jeans.”

Similarly, if a student forgets a PE uniform, Sutter said, they can ask to use the closet to grab a pair of shorts or tennis shoes for class.

“It's kind of taken away the excuses,” he said.

In addition to the clothes, there’s also a section dedicated to personal hygiene items. As part of a drive held by BHS Family Consumer Science classes, the closet offers deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, toothpaste, floss and other items. A local dentist office recently donated a box full of toothbrushes to the effort.

While personal hygiene can be a tough subject to broach, students can grab things like deodorant or soap when they need it, Oltman said.

Junior Cameron Knepp works in the media center as a student aide, restocking the bookshelves and doing various jobs that need doing around the library. One of his jobs is keeping the shelves in the clothes closet full of things that students can wear.

He usually puts 50 to 60 new items on the shelves each week he said, depending on what comes in. It all arrives freshly laundered and he’ll sort it by size and color and then it will be ready to go.

Sutter said that when his daughters left town for school, he brought some of the clothing they left behind to the clothes closet. They were still fashionable, and they had enough wear left in them that he thought he’d bring them to school rather than taking them to a thrift shop.

“A lot of our teachers, when their children go off to college, they no longer wear the Beatrice t-shirts and sweatshirts, so they donate them back to school,” Oltman said.

“This one actually looks familiar, right here,” Sutter said, pointing out a gray Beatrice High School basketball shirt.

The BHS-branded t-shirts and hoodies can be expensive, Oltman said, and for kids who can’t afford to buy new ones, these go a long way toward helping kids fit in with their peers.

Other items, like graduation gowns, are also a fairly expensive one-time purchase, so there are a handful of them in the clothes closet.

The closet has also helped out students in need of something to wear for special occasions.

Black dress shirts are the norm for students playing in the band. During the high school’s recent Veterans Day program, a student in the band didn’t have a black dress shirt for the performance, Oltman said. After a bit of digging, they were able to find one in time for the show.

“It's amazing what you find when you dig deep enough,” Oltman said. “We found a black shirt for him and his day was made. He wore a black button-down, so he looked like the rest of the kids.”

If anyone is interested in making a donation to the clothes closet, Sutter said, he’d prefer it if they contacted him first. The closet is very full and it is beginning to overflow into a second room in the media center. If people are interested in helping, however, monetary donations are welcomed so that the school can buy items as needed.

Federal inspectors reach scene of Keystone pipeline leak in South Dakota

AMHERST, S.D. — A federal pipeline safety agency has sent technical experts to the site of an estimated 210,000-gallon oil spill from the Keystone pipeline in northeastern South Dakota.

A Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration representative said Friday the agency's investigation is ongoing.

TransCanada Corp. crews shut down its Keystone pipeline Thursday after a drop in pressure was detected from the leak south of a pump station in Marshall County, South Dakota.

State officials say the buried pipeline leak is on agricultural land and don't believe it has polluted any surface water bodies or drinking water systems.

The pipeline delivers oil from Canada to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma. The leak was found just days before Nebraska regulators are to announce whether they approve an expansion of the Keystone system

TransCanada says it expects the pipeline to remain shut down as the company responds to the leak.

According to U.S. government data, there have been 17 oil leaks in the U.S. larger than the new spill since 2010.

But it comes just four days before Nebraska regulators are due to announce their final decision on whether a major expansion of the pipeline system, called Keystone XL, can pass through the state. The expansion has been fiercely opposed by environmental activists, American Indian tribes and some landowners.

President Donald Trump has approved a permit for the expansion.

Man accused of assaulting deputy arraigned

A Lincoln man accused of assaulting a Gage County deputy earlier this year was arraigned in Gage County District Court.

Daniel L. Helmink, 42, stood silent in district court, and a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

Helmink is charged with first-degree assault on an officer, assault on an officer with body fluid, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana following his arrest during the Gage County Fair.

The assault on an officer charge is a class 1D felony, punishable but three to 50 years imprisonment.

Gage County deputies responded to reports of an intoxicated man in the beer garden at the fair, and found that Helmink was belligerent and extremely intoxicated, and he had difficulty standing or walking.

Helmink was allegedly combative with deputies while being escorted out of the beer garden. He was handcuffed and taken to the command center at the fair. Once there, he called for a ride and waited for someone to arrive.

He was released to the woman who came to give him a ride and the handcuffs were removed. While driving away, Helmink allegedly rolled down a window of the car and shouted cuss words at a deputy and began punching the dashboard.

The driver stopped and asked deputies to take Helmink back before he damaged her vehicle.

When deputies attempted to remove him, court documents state he continually pulled away and resisted arrest. He spit on one deputy in the face and was put in a patrol vehicle.

During a search, deputies found a cigarette box in Helmink’s back pocket that contained a marijuana cigarette.

Documents state Helmink became more aggressive and was taken to the ground so deputies could place leg irons on his ankles.

Helmink was taken to a Lincoln detox center. While en route, he allegedly kicked the transport cage and banged his head on the walls of the vehicle multiple times, while also threatening to kick out the windows if the deputy didn’t pull the vehicle over.

A pretrial conference is set in the case for Jan. 18.

Pleas entered in drug case

A Beatrice woman who was in possession of drugs while being arrested earlier this year on a warrant pleaded not guilty to two charges in Gage County District Court.

Alexandria M. Saul, 25, entered the pleas to charges of possession of a controlled substance. A pretrial conference is set for Jan. 4 in the case.

Beatrice police found drugs in a Saul’s purse in June while arresting her on a warrant.

A Beatrice police officer was dispatched to the 300 block of South Eighth Street for a report of a man and woman arguing, and a motorcycle speeding up and down the alley.

The officer spotted a motorcycle driving down the alley, as well as a woman on foot.

Police asked the driver of the motorcycle what was going on, and court documents state he pointed at the woman and said she had been fighting with her boyfriend and he was trying to give her a ride.

The officer told the woman twice that she wanted to speak with her and that she was trying to figure out what was going on.

The woman gave the name Alex Smith when asked who she was, but she was later identified as Saul.

The officer recognized her from prior contacts as Saul, court documents state.

Saul also gave two different years of birth. A warrant check confirmed she had an active warrant out of Otoe County and was placed under arrest.

Documents state she was searched while being arrested, and officers found three small bags containing pills identified as Lorazepam in a purse. Two bags had a powdery substance identified as methamphetamine.

An identification card confirming the woman was Saul was also found in the bag.