By Desirée Keegan

What was intended to be a one-time act of kindness by a Rocky Point PTA member has blossomed into a venture that relentlessly helps community members in need.

Rocky Point resident Betty Loughran, who graduated from the district, had been a member of the PTA for over five years before the day Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien mentioned to her a family that uprooted from Florida had moved into the area with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was wintertime, and the family couldn’t afford clothes. So as O’Brien was telling Loughran teachers were scrambling to figure out a way to help, she decided to take matters into her own handsHer family was used to giving clothes away, so she gave her needy new neighbors clothes, and then came up with the idea to start something like a closet at the middle school. That’s how Betty’s Closet was formed.

“Every time a student is in need of something, like pants, sweatpants, a sweatshirt or jacket, they go up to my closet and take whatever they need,” she said. “And then I just replenish it the best I can.”

Some of the items sold inside the Rocky Point Middle School Store. Photo by Desirée Keegan

She found that there were so many families and students in need coming to the closet she went a step further in 2014 and created the Rocky Point Middle School store, where she sells discounted products like toys and clothes to kids during lunch. A portion of the proceeds goes toward replenishing the items sold at the store, while the rest goes toward helping families in need.

Loughran has made a huge impact in the community around the holidays, but she’s helping all year long. She once purchased dress pants and shoes so a Rocky Point freshman of a single father could get a job at McDonald’s. She has given sneakers to a student whose only pair had holes in them, and a pair of tennis shoes to another who would’ve failed gym class without them. She purchased socks for a student who came to school crying because his were wet every day. Last year, another family moved into the neighborhood with very little furniture. The mother was sleeping on the floor, so Loughran decided to go out and buy her a bed.

“I told myself, ‘I’m doing this to help people,’” she said. “It’s the little things that go a long way.”

Before she gets to work as a kindergarten teacher at St. Anthony’s Small Friars preschool in Rocky Point, Loughran stops at the shop to stock the shelves, then leaves it in the hands of parent volunteers like Samantha Netburn.

“I feel good that we’re helping so many people in the community,” Netburn said. “You just don’t even realize. A family next door could be suffering. You give to receive, and I have the time. It’s nice to know we stick together as a community.”

Loughran researches the newest things for kids, and tries to buy items every kid can afford. Local business owners help Loughran in her efforts, like Port Jeff Sports owner Bob LoNigro, who gives whatever he can, including shirts and sweatshirts to stock the store. Loughran’s friend of more than 15 years said no one does more than she does for the community.

“She supplies for so many kids. Betty Loughran has a heart of gold and loves the community that she grew up in. She is a wonderful person that we could not live without.”

— Denice Shaughnessy

“She’s an absolute machine,” LoNigro said. “She takes it to another level. She blows me away. She is someone who does so much for so many, and whatever I can do to help her, I’m more than happy to do it.”

Ed Darcey, owner of Personal Fitness Club Inc. in Rocky Point, said Loughran works tirelessly so that families can have some sense of normalcy.

“She goes all day,” he said. “It’s incredible what she does. First we did toy drives, then food drives, and she works all year round. So many families need assistance, and she always puts herself out there if anyone needs it. We need more people like her. She’s someone you’d want in every school. She’s an angel on Earth. She’s selfless. Her goal is just to help others.”

An employee at the district said she wished more people were so dedicated to helping others like Loughran.

“Without her work, this community would have nothing, because nobody else does it,” Rocky Point Middle School secretary Denice Shaughnessy said. “She supplies for so many kids. Betty Loughran has a heart of gold and loves the community that she grew up in. She is a wonderful person that we could not live without. Whether it’s giving something big or small, she’s always giving of herself and her time to see that others are taken care of.”

Loughran isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

“I think it’s important to understand that giving to your neighbors is a good thing,” she said. “It’s amazing how big this has grown in such a short time, and it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. That one family that you meet that you make really happy — you put a smile on their face — that’s why I do it. In the end, you’re giving to someone that really, really needs it. That’s what it’s all about.”

To donate to Loughran’s cause, visit her public group on Facebook Betty’s Closet/Middle School Store, or contact Rocky Point Middle School at 631-744-1603.