Inside Stories

InsideDracut: Catie’s Closet Finds New Home

Catie: Catie’s Closet is named for Catie Bisson, who passed away in 2010 (COURTESY CATIE’S CLOSET)

When Catie Bisson was a student at Lowell High School, she noticed that many students could not afford the basic necessities that she took for granted – clothing, footwear, hygiene products, toiletries – and that the absence of these essentials served as a barrier to their education.

Catie felt strongly that education should not be a privilege, and it was her mission that all students have equal access to the items that all children need for a successful school experience.

Unfortunately, Catie did not live to see her dream become reality. She passed away in 2010 from heart disease at age 20. It fell to her family and friends to create Catie’s Closet.

Catie’s Closet VIPS include, front row, from left, Carolyn O’Connor, distribution team lead; Emily Catanzano, program administrator; Denise Trombly, co-founder and director of operations; Anne-Marie Sousa, co-founder and board president; Mickey Cockrell, co-founder and CEO; Amanda Harvey, communications manager; Kim Fontaine, program manager; and Melissa Herman, board member; and, back row, Tom Smithers and Cleverson De Camargo. (DRACUT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PHOTO)

“We started 13 years ago in my parents’ basement,” Catie’s mother, Anne-Marie Sousa, told those who gathered on September 15 as Dracut Economic Development held a grand-opening celebration for the opening of Catie’s Closet’s new home at 28 Loon Hill Road in Dracut.

The first Catie’s Closet opened at Lowell High in 2010, allowing students access to free clothing and supplies they may not have access to at home. Today, there are closets in 120 schools across Massachusetts and New Hampshire – even Long Island, New York – serving more than 80,000 students on a daily basis. Aside from its Dracut headquarters and collection point, Catie’s Closet has distribution facilities in Boston and Springfield.

Anne-Marie and her sisters, fellow co-founders Denise Trombly and Mickey Cockrell, created a nonprofit agency that not only outgrew their parents’ basement, but later surpassed spaces at a Dracut dentist’s office and a 15,000-square-foot location at 19 School Street in the Navy Yard Mill at the corner of Pleasant Street, also in Dracut.

Catie’s exterior: The exterior of Catie’s Closet’s new home at 28 Loon Hill Road, complete with brand-new loading dock. (DRACUT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PHOTO)

As Catie’s Closet continued to grow and showed no sign of stopping, it became vital to find an even bigger location. That’s where Marcella and Maria Albanese entered the picture.

They own the property at 28 Loon Hill Road, off Broadway Road, where Albanese Brothers’ offices are located. When Gravity Fitness closed, they found themselves with about 20,000 square feet of space in need of a tenant.

So the three sisters from Catie’s Closet met with the two Albanese sisters and, over the next few months, were able to work out a deal for Catie’s Closet to take over a large majority of the two-story building, save for the offices of Albanese Brothers on the second floor. A potential deal-breaker – the site’s lack of a loading dock – was solved when the Albaneses agreed to allow Catie’s Closet to install one at one end of the building.

Catie’s ribbon: Anne-Marie Sousa cuts the ribbon to commemorate the grand opening of Catie’s Closet’s new home (DRACUT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PHOTO)

Maria and Marcella Albanese said they couldn’t have hoped for a better tenant for their building, which stands just a few doors down from Dracut Police headquarters.

“They do such wonderful work, and we’re happy to have them here,” Maria said of Catie’s Closet.

The feeling is mutual.

“We hope we have found our forever home here,” Anne-Marie told the crowd after she and her sisters cut the ribbon to commemorate their new location surrounded by supporters, employees, state officials and dignitaries from Dracut and Lowell.

Catie’s Dracut: Dracut, Lowell and state officials, as well as employees and friends, celebrate the grand opening of Catie’s Closet’s new headquarters at 28 Loon Hill Road, Dracut (DRACUT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PHOTO)

“We couldn’t do this alone,” she added, “and we thank all of the city, town and state officials who have loyally supported us. There is no greater example of the saying ‘It takes a village,’ and it took a village to create something that will help so many people.”

Catie’s Closet is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 978-957-2200 or visit for more information or to set up a time to drop off donations. They are currently seeking, in particular, donations of kids’ sneakers, kids’ toothpaste and kids’ pants and undergarments.

(Dan Phelps is the Economic Development Planner for the Town of Dracut)




One response to “InsideDracut: Catie’s Closet Finds New Home”

  1. Lorna Garey says:

    Catie’s Closet is a great organization with really compelling stories of how they have helped keep kids in school. Congratulations on the new space!

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