For most children, winter is a time of joy as they wait hopefully for snowfall and deep freezes. For those without warm clothes, however, winter is a season of cold and hardship.
That’s a problem volunteers and donors at Children Incorporated have been working to fix for almost 25 years.
Children Incorporated’s Warm Clothing Fund raised $30,000 this year to provide coats, gloves, boots, and other warm clothes to children in need. More than 3,500 children around the United States received items this year, each specifically selected for their own individual needs.
They include children who don’t have sponsors and children whose needs exceed their sponsorship.
“In most cases, we’ve found that the sponsorship funds are stretched to the limit,” said Steve Mitchell, Children Incorporated’s Sponsorship Manager. “Clothes, food, school supplies, and hygiene items – even for our sponsored children, sometimes it’s just not enough. And unfortunately, there aren’t enough sponsors for every child who needs help.”
So where sponsorship leaves off, the Warm Clothing Fund picks up. Any child in need, whether sponsored or not, can get brand-new winter clothing, purchased specifically for them, through the fund.
The fund focuses primarily on the Appalachian Region of Kentucky and West Virginia, the Navajo Reservation in the Midwest, and inner-city areas of urban centers like Detroit, but it includes other communities around the country as well. Children Incorporated also spreads the warmth in its own backyard, providing winter clothing for students in Richmond City Public Schools in Virginia.
“Clothes, food, schools supplies, and hygiene items – even for our sponsored children, sometimes it’s just not enough. And unfortunately, there aren’t enough sponsors for every child who needs help.”
Coming in from the cold
The children’s parents sometimes request help – but usually teachers see the need before anyone even asks. When that happens, the teacher talks to our volunteer coordinator at the school. Volunteer coordinators are school employees, such as guidance counselors or resource coordinators, who work with nonprofits like Children Incorporated to get help for individual children.
“In many cases, the coordinator may meet with the family to talk about the child’s clothing needs,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes the coordinator gets to take the child out shopping to pick out their own items. It’s not always possible, but when they can – talk about making a child’s day!”
In other cases, the coordinator selects and purchases shoes, gloves, a coat or a scarf – sometimes all of them – and gives them to the child. The items are always new, and are individually selected for each child, based on their needs.
New shoes – for the first time
Jefferey Jackson, the coordinator at Blackwell Elementary School in Richmond, told the story of a child who was sent to his office with shoes a size-and-a-half too small. He called Mitchell at Children Incorporated, and Mitchell told him to use Warm Clothing Fund money to buy the boy a new pair of shoes in his size.
“This young man was extremely pleased when presented with his new shoes. He accepted them with a pledge to always keep them tied properly,” Jackson said. “Not long after our exchange, he returned to my office with a letter of gratitude. In this letter, spotted with tears, he confessed that this was the first time that he has had a brand new pair of shoes that were not handed down from another source.”
Zero degrees at the bus stop
In the colder parts of the country, the need becomes even more acute.
Debbie Fluty, assistant coordinator at Sheldon Clark High School in Kentucky, said the Warm Clothing Fund provides boots, coats, and socks for students in life-threatening cold.
“Some have to walk out of mountain hollows to catch the bus because buses cannot get to them. They have to stand in zero degree weather at the bus stops,” she said.
And many parents won’t send their children out into the cold without proper clothes, so when the temperature drops, students don’t come to school at all, said Mary Valenza, coordinator at Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School in Richmond.
“We know that chronic absences lead to poor grades, and poor grades often result in a student being retained,” she said, noting that having a reliable source for coats, hats, gloves, and scarves has made a difference in attendance.
“The Warm Clothing Fund has been successfully solving that problem for more than two decades, because it’s the kind of situation that really resonates with Children Incorporated donors,” said Mitchell.
“There’s an immediate remedy,” he said, explaining why the fund has been so successful for so long. “A child is cold – they need a coat. It’s something they can wrap their minds around. They think, ‘I can do this.’”
“They can also see the results for themselves”, he said,” since volunteer coordinators send pictures of children showing off their new winter clothing. And since a child’s coat is affordable for most donors, it’s a clear, easy, commitment-free way they can solve a problem quickly.”
“The volunteer coordinators are the ones who know the children best, and who know what each one needs the most- what we provide just depends on the needs of the children,” Mitchell said. “We’re just here to help as best as we can.”
How can I donate to the Warm Clothing Fund?
You can donate by calling our office and speaking with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381 or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, you can make a donation through our donation portal online.