CLEARWATER - Nearly 5,000 school-aged children were served by Clothes To Kids, Inc. in 2005. "This year our goal is 6,700," advises Marie McClung, who co-founded the non-profit organization with Jode Eye in 2003. CTK, which "exists to provide new and quality used clothing to low-income children in Pinellas County, free of charge", has given out over 10,000 wardrobes since it first opened its doors.
The last few weeks have been especially busy for staff and volunteers. The start of a new school year has brought many a new client to the store located at 1059 N. Hercules Ave. Not just anyone can walk in, however. The clothing found there is available only to those who meet CTK's eligibility criteria. They include students in grades K-12 who qualify for free or reduced lunch at school and students whose families have suffered crises such as homelessness, fire, flooding or other emergency situations. A referral by a social worker, guidance counselor or other school administrator is required. Churches may also refer children in need.
McClung pointed out there are more than 40,000 children that come from low-income famlies in Pinellas County alone. Some 45 out of 100 students are considered to be poverty level, she said. Research has shown that many children who come to school without adequate clothing and shoes suffer from low self-esteem, poor social skills and lack of concentration in their schoolwork. CTK sees that each child who qualifies receives two seasonal wardrobes a year. Each boy and girl may select five tops, four bottoms and a pair of shoes. Girls can also pick out a dress or skirt of their choice. In addition, each student receives five pairs of socks and underwear. Socks and underwear are new, paid for by donations to the organization. Last year 23,898 pairs of socks and 23,846 undergarments were distributed along with 25,932 tops, 2,146 jackets and 19,942 bottoms.
CTK has accommodated as many as 60 children a day. All are treated to their special shopping experience by appointment only. "We feel like Santa Claus every day," McClung noted. And the students in need are thankful to have such a place where they can turn for free clothing which will help them "fit in" among their peers. A middle school student wrote, "Thank you for the clothes. They are awesome on me!" A letter of appreciation from a parent stated, "Thank you so much for all you do. My girls were thrilled to receive all of the outfits and shoes. It is wonderful that you provide so much for so many people. Our family is grateful for your support." Another parent noted, "I wanted to thank you for the clothes we received this past Saturday. You are a blessing to us."
Ray Hoopes is president of the Clothes To Kids board of directors. Other officers are Cheryl Abernathy, vice president; Beth Fisher, secretary; and John Bryan, treasurer. Directors are Marie McClung, Jode Eye, Jim Lehrburger, Kip Corriveau, Arthurene Williams, Ileane Altamura, Bruce Barnes, Melinda Singleton and Paul Girourd. CTK has one full-time paid staff member. She is store manager Cindy Braun, a former assistant manager of Lillie Rubin at International Mall in Tampa, who has over 15 years of retail management experience..
CTK welcomes monetary gifts in any amount from individuals, civic and fraternal organizations and businesses in the community. "All financial gifts are gratefully accepted," McClung advises. There are other ways you can also help support the mission of CTK. You can donate new and/or quality used clothing and shoes suitable for school-aged children or you can donate your time by becoming a volunteer. Volunteers are needed to sort new donations, restock displays, assist clients, sponsor clothing drives, pick up clothing and assist with clerical duties, including data entry. Clothing may be dropped off at the store from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information on Clothes To Kids, call (727) 441-5050.
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