FWC Loan Closet helps campus newcomers settle in

Susan Froehlich, Dr. Sunho Park, and Paula Branum
Dr. Sunho Park (center), a postdoctoral researcher in Clinical Sciences, goes through some of the items available in the Faculty Women’s Club’s Loan Closet. Helping Dr. Park are Club member Susan Froehlich (left) and Paula Branum, administrative associate in the Office of International Affairs.

By Harriet L. Blake

International graduate students, visiting research professors, and trainees often arrive at UT Southwestern Medical Center with just a suitcase of clothes.

With a year or more stay ahead of them, they need help getting settled as they start their appointments, classes, or research. They have little time for multiple trips to stores to settle into apartments or rental units. That’s where the Loan Closet comes in.

Dr. Jean Pennant arrived on campus in 1986. He was part of a visiting professor program that brought over senior residents from England to teach for one year. “When I arrived from London, I didn’t want to shell out lots of money to furnish an apartment that I was going to stay in for one year,” he said. Thanks to the Loan Closet, Dr. Pennant was able to borrow a washing machine, ironing board, plates, and utensils. “It was incredibly helpful. It was nice to be able to pick up the items and then return them. Very easy.”

As it turned out, after returning to Great Britain, Dr. Pennant came back to the United States permanently in 1987 to marry one of the OR nurses he’d met. Dr. Pennant and his wife, Jean, reside in the Dallas area with their two children. And Mrs. Pennant is now a board member with the Faculty Women’s Club (FWC), which helps run the Loan Closet.

The offering is a collaboration of the FWC and the Office of International Affairs. Those in need make a $200 deposit and can rent items at the closet for a year. Ann Jones, Director of the Office of International Affairs, said the Loan Closet has been in existence since the early 1980s.

“We try to provide everything they need for a new apartment,” said Nyla Krippner, who is the Loan Closet 2016 committee chair. Items include car seats, air mattresses, vacuum cleaners, sheets, towels, folding tables, as well as kitchenware like dishes, glassware, toasters, coffeemakers, pots and pans. The students can come back as many times as they need to. They get their deposit back when the items are returned.

“Many international research trainees arrive to spend a few months to a year, and frequently do not have a driver’s license or car, so shopping is a challenge,” Ms. Jones said.

Paula Branum, administrative associate for the Office of International Affairs, oversees the program. She said her office and the FWC coordinate to ensure that needed items are known. The women of the FWC then provide her with the items or with money to purchase them. Ms. Krippner is tasked with the shopping. She said she shops about four times each year to replenish the closet, often picking up tax-free items.

Ms. Branum’s job is to meet with Loan Closet participants, ensuring they get what they need. This year has been particularly busy, she said. “We’ve served 20 to 25 people so far. Some students have been returning items, and others are borrowing.” Ms. Branum keeps track of the deposits and makes sure students are refunded when they have returned the items. “People are so appreciative,” she said.

The Loan Closet is located in the basement of the Paul M. Bass Administrative and Clinical Center. At first, it stored mostly gently used items, resulting in time spent cleaning, washing, and resorting. “We used to keep the Loan Closet stocked with donated items, but now we buy new things with money from the FWC,” said Ms. Krippner.

Ms. Krippner initially became involved with the Loan Closet when she arrived in Dallas in 1982 with her husband, who was in his second-year residency. “As an anesthesiologist resident, he would be gone for a couple of days at a time.” In short time, the Loan Closet became her mission.

Funding for Loan Closet items comes in part from FWC member dues, Ms. Jones explained. “We usually receive between $2,500 and $3,000 from member dues, which is split between the Loan Closet and Parkland [Memorial Hospital] projects, such as books for newborns.”

This year, Loan Closet expenses have been supplemented by the Daniels Endowment, she said. The endowment comes from money given in honor of Marnie Wildenthal (wife of UT Southwestern President Emeritus Dr. Kern Wildenthal).

“While keeping the Loan Closet program going does require some effort, our reward is the appreciation of the international visitors to UT Southwestern whose lives are made easier as a result of this service,” Ms. Jones said.

Ms. Krippner agreed, saying, “Our clients are new to the city and this country … It’s a privilege to help them in any way in their transition. It reminds me of sending my kids off to college.”