Clothing Our Kids has tallied its figures for the 2017 school year. Responding to requests from 33 elementary schools throughout Sussex County, the organization and 150 volunteers provided, at no cost, 20,663 clothing items including coats, shirts, pants, sweaters, underwear and more to 3,825 children in need.
The 100 percent volunteer-run organization from Millsboro works only in Sussex County and, thus far, only with elementary schools. It works exclusively with school nurses familiar with the family history of each child. Some children come from broken homes and others from abusive domestic situations. Some have had their homes destroyed by fire. Others may have no parents and are living with relatives. Some are living in cars. Volunteers package a full set of new clothing (six shirts, five or six pairs of pants, a coat if necessary, a hoodie, 12 pairs of underwear, 12 pairs of socks and more) for each child and deliver it the the school usually within 24 hours. Children are presented with the clothing in private by the nurse so they will not be embarrassed by having other children see them receiving clothing.
The organization's goal is to ensure that no child ever misses a day of school because they do not have shoes to walk in, or a coat in winter, or are too embarrassed because their clothing is dirty. Children who do not go to school regularly are at risk of not socializing normally, of suffering low self-esteem and of living at a disadvantage.
Mary Rio founded Clothing Our Kids in 2012. Her husband John was an assistant principal at the time in a local elementary school. When she heard about a child who did not have any clothing other than what he was wearing, Mary took it upon herself to buy clothing for him. Not long after, John learned of siblings who were coming to school on alternate days because they only had one pair of shoes between them. Mary bought shoes for these children too. After the needs of several more children came to their attention, Mary began going to yard sales, Goodwill, Walmart and anyone who might be willing to donate wearable new or gently used clothing. That first year, Mary provided nearly 850 items to about 150 boys and girls in five Sussex County elementary schools.
Most Sussex County residents live within a short distance of an elementary school. These children are neighbors. Fulfilling the need for clothing to so many children is heartening, but it shows how much poverty and need exist locally. Clothing Our Kids relies completely on the support of businesses, organizations, church and synagogue groups, and individuals. Summer is a quiet time for the organization. School is out. But very soon the rush will begin as school resumes and the cycle starts again.
Clothing Our Kids is seeking donations of money or new clothing for boys or girls in sizes 4-20. For more information on donating or volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org.