Clothes to Kids
In 2002, two housewives from Clearwater, Florida, opened a donated clothing shop in their garage to provide disadvantaged school children with nice clothes to help build confidence.
As the need grew, so did their operation, spawning a nonprofit called Clothes to Kids, which has stores in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Florida. The group will open a third location called Clothes to Kids of Haywood County Inc. at the end of August in Lake Junaluska.
A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7 at the new location, 177 Weldon Way, Lake Junaluska, inside the Lakeshore Realty office building.
The vision statement for this new Haywood County nonprofit is to create a “community in which every school-age young person has quality clothing so that he or she may attend school with the confidence and self-esteem needed to achieve academic success.”
To accomplish this, Clothes to Kids will partner with Haywood County school system social workers, who will refer children to shop at Clothes to Kids based on certain need-based criteria.
Most of the children referred will be from low income families who might be receiving free or reduced lunch or weekend backpacks filled with five pounds of supplemental food items, said Michelle Mull, a Haywood County school system social worker in charge of the Clothes to Kid referral system for the area.
Last year, of the 7,600 students enrolled in the Haywood County school system, 54 percent of the students received free or reduced lunches, Mull said.
Mull also estimates that nearly 100 students in the Haywood County school system receive the weekend backpacks.
Other children referred might be those who have experienced some kind of tragedy, including mudslides or house fires, or who have recently become homeless and suddenly find themselves without proper clothing, Mull said.
“A lot of children’s clothes are too big for them because they’re wearing hand-me-downs from older siblings and they can’t afford to buy new clothes,” Mull said. “It’s really heart breaking. A lot of kids don’t realize they’re making fun of these [disadvantaged] kids and hurting their self-esteem.”
Mull recalls one boy being made fun of for having to wear his older sister’s pants.
Once a referral has been made by a parent or teacher to the social worker, the social worker will then meet with the parents and encourage them to call Clothes to Kids to set up an appointment to shop. Children can receive clothes up to twice a year from the nonprofit.
Clothes to Kids is entirely volunteer run and already has more than 20 volunteers who will staff the store during different seasons.
About five years ago, Payton Adams, a summer resident at Lake Junaluska from St. Petersburg, first began volunteering with Clothes to Kids in St. Petersburg and wanted to investigate the need for bringing the nonprofit to Haywood County.
“I’ve heard so many testimonies about some youngster who was embarrassed to go to school because their clothes were not proper,” Adams said.
Adams recalls one story about a young girl who was so upset by all the bullying she received from other students about her clothes that she dropped out of school. Clothes to Kids intervened, providing her with better clothing, which turned her life around and is now attending college.
Last July, Adams shared his idea with a couple friends who attended his church in St. Petersburg — Sylvia Russell, a retired minister, and her husband, Ed, who, like Adams, have spent the last 20 summers at Lake Junaluska. They also are passionate about helping school children look and feel their best.
Over the last year, the trio has made numerous presentations to leaders of local organizations, including Longs Chapel United Methodist Church, the superintendant of Haywood County schools, Anne Garrett, and Mountain Projects Inc. and have received only positive feedback from the community.
“So far, in a year’s time, we have not met one person or organization who has thought that we’re making a wrong move,” Sylvia said. “Everyone has been supportive.”
Since then, the community has mobilized to help turn their dream into a reality.
Jack Ewing, executive director of the Lake Junaluska Assembly, offered to rent them half of the Lakeshore Realty office building to house the nonprofit.
“We came over and looked and thought it would even be too big for us, but decided we would love to move in anyway,” Sylvia said, laughing.
Now that the store is fully stocked, the nonprofit founders are beginning to wonder if they will soon outgrow their space, which has brightly painted walls and decorations designed by a retired art teacher volunteer to mimic the feel of a boutique.
Clothes to Kids accepts gently used clothes, shoes and other accessories of every size for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Most of the clothes have been donated by Duck Duck Goose, an organization in Waynesville, which holds periodic consignment sales. In exchange, Clothes to Kids staff will volunteer at Duck Duck Goose events. When Clothes to Kids first began stocking shelves, they received two trucks and an SUV filled with Duck Duck Goose donations.
Other clothing donations have come from the Lake Junaluska community as well as other individuals looking for somewhere to get rid of last year’s clothes. The nonprofit will only accept clothes that conform to school dress codes in Haywood County.
“One of the things that really pleases us is the support that we got from the school system,” Ed said. “We have joined them in being a support arm of their needs. We feel good about what they have done to help us improve the school system.”
Community donors are asked to make a $50 donation to fund a wardrobe or complete outfit for a child.
Between the two Florida locations, in 2012, more than 12,000 school wardrobes were provided to children by Clothes to Kids. Likewise, the Haywood County store hopes to one day provide between three to five wardrobes to each child who needs it.
“There is a tremendous amount of charity support in the area,” Adams said. “Our goal is for our nonprofit to fit in with that and add to the amount of effort that is going on in Haywood County [to support school children].”
Want to help?
Clothes can be donated by appointment only.
While most gently used clothes will be accepted, the store is in particular need of boys clothing, jeans, clean tennis shoes and larger sizes for high school age children.
Volunteers are needed to help with sorting, tagging and restocking clothes and scheduling appointments and assisting children in selecting their clothes.
Clothes to Kids is also willing to make presentations about their nonprofit to community organizations.
To donate, volunteer or request a presentation, call the store at 456-8990.
Visit Clothes to Kids of Haywood County, Inc. on Facebook as well.