Inside a storefront in a corner of a shopping center off Colorado Boulevard, a group of teenage girls sorts through piles of clothes and hangers. They chatter as they work, pointing out national brand names like Vineyard Vines as they go through the donated clothes.
Student Marygrace Adam, who with her peers from St. Mary’s Academy is volunteering this day at Clothes to Kids of Denver, is glad to be helping.
“These clothes are going to people who need it,” she said.
The nonprofit receives donations every day, said Katie Jones Jadwin, executive director of the organization that operates at 2890 S. Colorado Blvd. The sorting room is lined with folded clothes. Bags of recently donated items fill bins by the front door. Clothes to Kids operates a store in the same shopping area where people can make an appointment to get school wardrobes for their kids.
Each child receives five tops, four bottoms, a coat, a pair of shoes, as well as five pairs of underwear and socks, all for free. The socks and underwear are guaranteed to be new, Jones Jadwin said. The store offers clothes to people from 3 to 21 years old, as long as students are enrolled in a school or GED program.
Serving those in need
Parents are referred to Clothes to Kids by aid organizations, schools or nonprofits. Children in foster care or children who qualify for free and reduced lunch also qualify for clothes at the nonprofit. Families can get clothes for their children once every six months, Jones Jadwin said.
The nonprofit also offers what Jones Jadwin calls extras — books, games, cleats and play clothes.
While socks and underwear will always be popular items, shoes and coats can be the difference between getting to school or not, Jones Jadwin said.
“If they have any type of walking or bus trip, where they have to wait at the bus stop, we found that coats really lower truancy rates,” she said.
Last year, the nonprofit handed out 9,454 wardrobes. In September, it gave out its 50,000th wardrobe and in July its 1 millionth piece of clothing. Clothes to Kids is hoping to give out close to 10,000 wardrobes this year, Jones Jadwin said.
Although the nonprofit allows for people to come in for clothes twice per year, about 80 percent of the families only visit during back-to-school season. During that time, the nonprofit has 100 appointments a day.
Clothes to Kids also helps families experiencing a crisis.
Maria Trujillo was shopping at the store for the first time in early October. She had heard about the program though the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food program and St. Joseph Catholic Parish in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Trujillo had recently been diagnosed with cancer, making it all but impossible for her to work, she said. In addition to her two children, she also cares for her sister’s kids. Being able to find something to help them out was a weight off her chest, she said.
“I don’t want the kids at school bullying them or making fun of them,” Trujillo said. “It’s a tough situation. I didn’t expect to have cancer, but I do.”
Saying yes to everyone
In 2008, Clothes to Kids started in the shop where the sorting area is now housed. The crammed shop had room for one dressing room. At first, the organization only served the city of Denver. But as word spread about Clothes to Kids, people began coming in from all over the state, Jones Jadwin said. Now, the store serves Denver, Boulder, Broomfield, Douglas, Jefferson, Gilpin, Clear Creek, Adams, Arapahoe and Elbert counties.
“A lot of people are willing to make the drive,” Jones Jadwin said. “We really decided to expand so we could say yes to everybody.”
The shop has also expanded in size.
Clothes to Kids moved to its current location in 2010. The larger space was larger included a room in the back for sorting donated clothes. In 2014, the nonprofit expanded again by knocking out the back walls and using the whole space for a store. At that time, it also began renting out the original shop space as a sorting area.
Since Clothes to Kids serves some children in foster care, Jones Jadwin said it was important to separate the donation space from the rest of the store. This way, clothing donated in trash bags is kept in the sorting area and away from the shopping side.
“It was kind of triggering for our youth in foster care. If they’ve been removed from home, often their belongings are all thrown in a black garbage bag,” Jones Jadwin said. “When they come here I don’t want them to see a black trash bag during a visit. I want them to see pretty clothes arranged how they like.”
While her children looked at shoes, Trujillo sorted through a rack of clothes in the back of the store. She said she was grateful to Clothes to Kids for helping her get back on her feet. She plans on bringing in clothing that her own children have outgrown, as a way to give back.
“It’s my turn, you know,” she said. “You get some and you return some.”
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