Clothing Our Kids expanding to reach more students in need

April 2, 2022

Clothing Our Kids was born in 2012, after Mary Rio learned from her husband John, a Sussex County elementary school assistant principal, about a student who came to school each day wearing the same soiled clothing. Through her efforts to help that one student, she learned of others in need, and she developed an inventory of essential school clothing in her home. Friends heard of her initiative and wanted to help. Through generous donations and more than 100 volunteers, Mary was able to move the operation into a storefront and eventually grew to fill the volunteer center now located on Route 24 in Millsboro.

The organization receives clothing requests through school nurses, assistant principals, counselors and other administrators who are fully aware of a student’s personal situation. The brand-new clothing is packaged at the volunteer center, delivered to the school representative making the request and privately handed to the student in need.

Clothing Our Kids now consists of nearly 150 volunteers. There is no paid staff, and the nonprofit is solely dependent on donations from neighbors. Volunteer center and warehouse are its only expenses. Roughly 89% of donations is spent on program expenses.

Mary Rio supplied 850 items of clothing to 150 students in 2012. Since COK’s founding, more than 28,000 children have received more than 161,000 items of clothing.

In celebrating its 10th year, Clothing Our Kids is expanding into Sussex County middle schools. Those in sixth, seventh and eighth grades are as vulnerable and as much in need as their younger counterparts, if not more so. Organizers will proceed slowly in this space to ensure COK has proper staffing and funds to provide for these students. Hence, it will take on one school at a time. After filling the first order for a middle school student who was placed in foster care, Volunteer Center Director Karen Borges said, “These are the stories that tear your heart out, knowing that she had so little after being left in a foster home. One can only imagine what her young life has been like.”

The group is also redoubling its efforts to reach children in Sussex County Head Start programs. Head Start was established to help babies living in poverty obtain a head start with their education, so the two organizations are aligned in their missions.

“It’s not just new clothes, it’s a new life,” said Mary Rio.

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