With school in full swing, one issue on many kids’ minds is “What am I going to wear?” For many students, what they wear affects their self-esteem and confidence, both of which can have an impact on their ability to achieve academic success. Fortunately, for families in the Tampa Bay area with students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, there is a program to which they can turn for their clothing needs. Clothes To Kids, Inc. has a simple mission; to provide new and quality used clothing to low-income or in crisis school-age children, free of charge. Yes, free clothes! With this worry behind them, let the learning begin!
How it all began…………
Childhood friends and graduates of Clearwater High School, Jode Frisbie Eye and Marie Bouchard McClung established Clothes To Kids, Inc together. With a desire to help children in need, these ladies began collecting clothing in 2002. Their goal was to provide a store with a positive and cheerful environment where families and children could shop with dignity and respect and receive clothing for school, free of charge. In 2003 the first Clothes To Kids location opened its doors in Dunedin. Growing quickly because of the many donations from both individuals and businesses, they moved to their current Clearwater location. In 2009, a St. Petersburg location was opened to meet the needs of families in that area. In 2018, the Tampa location opened its doors serving children in Hillsborough County. Since its beginning, Clothes To Kids has provided more than 129,000 wardrobes, which include new and quality used clothing, to children! October 2019 marks the 17 year anniversary of this amazing organization.
Staying true to core values
With the opening of each Clothes To Kids location, the core values of the organization remained intact. Compassion for those they serve and making families feel comfortable and welcome; Respecting those who shop there by maintaining confidentiality and not question or judge their circumstances; Building self-esteem by providing clothing that makes children feel good about themselves; Serving those children by working hard and giving their very best.
Executive Director, Jennifer Jacobs has been with Clothes To Kids, Inc. since 2011. Her inspiration to work with the organization came when she learned about their mission and how it applies to all. Greeting the shoppers, she explained, is her favorite part of her job. “Especially the little ones and the high schoolers who come in and don’t want to be there and then they leave with a bag full of clothes they picked out and love and are smiling from ear to ear!” Jennifer explained that making a difference in the lives of our future generations is what motivates her.
How you can help
“There’s a very good chance that what someone donates today could very easily be on our store floor for a kid to select and love the next!” New and quality used clothing are always in demand. Because kids come in all sizes, they collect all sizes of clothing for children in grades PreK4-12th grade. They also distribute more than 80,000 pairs of underwear each year! Unopened packages are a current urgent need. They also accept scarfs, earrings, ties, hats, belts, bracelets and necklaces. Of course, cash donations are also welcomed so that they can fulfill their critical needs when a certain category runs low. Jennifer explained that for every dollar donated, .87 cents goes towards the program. They are recognized as a 4-star charity navigator charity, which is the highest rate given to charities.
Be sure to watch their website for upcoming events! In October, the Kick One Back event will be held at the Rialto Theater. This event is held to raise awareness and funds. Each year, Clothes To Kids, Inc. distributes more than 15,000 pairs of shoes. A new pair of shoes costs them, on average, $12. Tickets for this event can be purchased on their website. In April of 2020, their Our Clothes Matter Luncheon-Awkward Years will be held at the St. Pete Coliseum. Individual tickets are $50 and table sponsorships start at $500 for a table of ten.
Both adult and youth volunteer opportunities are available! Be a greeter, work as a sorter, mender or restock clerk. Students in grades 9 through 12 can earn service hours which can be used toward Bright Futures scholarships! Volunteer applications can be found online.
For more information, visit www.clothestokids.org. Eligible shoppers must live and attend school in Pinellas or Hillsborough County, be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (proof of eligibility or “lunch letter required), and must call to make a shopping appointment. For Pinellas County, call 727-441-5050. For Hillsborough County, call 813-616-6430.