NEWARK, N.J. -- The principal at West Side High School in Newark wants to combat bullying by offering students a free place to wash their clothes on school grounds.
Principal Akbar Cook has converted the football team's locker room into a laundromat, complete with 10 commercial washers and dryers.
"It's a bullying factor that no one is talking about," Cook said. "The kids are being bullied because they don’t have the means to wash their clothes."
Cook recalled an incident a couple years back when a 16-year-old girl came to school with soiled clothes inside her backpack. She was homeless.
The laundromat will be open to students after school hours. They'll be asked to perform STEM projects or do homework in an adjoining room while their clothes cycle through the wash.
"I think it’s a good way to give people confidence that there is someone who actually cares about them and is willing to help them out," incoming junior Nasier Summerville, 17, said.
In the past, Cook said, students would skip school to avoid the embarrassment of coming to class wearing yesterday's clothes.
"If they come to school, they were getting put on Snapchat, Instagram for having dirty clothes on, so even when they got home the bullying didn’t stop," Cook said.
West Side purchased the new washing and drying machines through a $20,000 grant from PSE&G. Meanwhile, the community has come forward to donate detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheets.
Donations have poured in from as far away as California.
"I wanna help the kids," said Marcia Golson, a Newark resident who stopped by on Friday to make a donation. "If they are willing and want to go to school, I want to help them."
Classes start again on Sept. 4.