Easing financial burden of school Clothing: A Westminster outreach center lets parents shop for nearly new items.

August 12, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

For parents unable to afford a back-to-school shopping spree, Shepherd's Staff is offering new supplies and gently used clothing for free.

The Christian outreach center in Westminster has invited those in need to shop at a clothing store that opened this week, fully stocked with nearly new items, sorted by size. Shoppers can comb the racks and bins and fill a large bag with everything from caps to shoes.

The center is also providing Kits for Kids, and expects to give away about 800 of the packets, which are filled with supplies, before school opens Aug. 24. A few kits went to adults working for their high school equivalency.

"I got new scissors in my kit," said 9-year-old Nevin Smith, who is about to enter fourth grade. "I have been using the same pair for three years."

While his mother, Karen Utz, shopped in the store, Nevin emptied his kit and enumerated the contents: a ruler, crayons, several notebooks, glue sticks, markers and folders. Utz found several shirts for Nevin and his younger brother.

"They both have outgrown everything from last year," Utz said. "This really helps a single mom with two growing boys."

The staff helped more than 60 families fill large bags Monday and gave away 180 kits. Shoppers lined up as early as 8: 30 a.m., 90 minutes before the store opened. Throughout the day, many waited for as long as a half-hour to shop.

The lines had diminished by yesterday, but shoppers still kept volunteers busy. The staff is asking families to wait a week before revisiting the store.

Ann Gifford, volunteer coordinator for the project and a teacher at Westminster Elementary, said the kits and clothes give children an even start with their peers.

"It is important for the self-esteem of the child to have the things he needs when he walks into the classroom," said Gifford. "With the kits, they walk in knowing they are prepared and that they don't have to borrow."

Darlene Marceron, a retired kindergarten teacher, said children "feel more a part of the group" with the right supplies. "Teachers plan on children having these things, and the kids who don't have them miss out."

Teresa Luby picked up two kits yesterday and browsed.

"I have two kids in elementary school and no money for school supplies," said Luby, a Westminster mother of two. "It would probably cost about $45 for each child, a real strain for a single parent. This is a blessing to have."

Luby might have underestimated the expense of outfitting a child for school. Consumers are expected to spend $408 per child this year, according to the American Express Retail Index, which is based on a national survey of more than 1,300 consumers. That's up 3 percent from the $396 per child the survey reported last year.

The International Mass Retail Association, based in Arlington, Va., said parents will spend an average $60 on paper, notebooks, folders, books and organizers and about $239 on apparel.

Tammy Stultz, outfitting five sons for school, located several items in the store and put a sizable dent in her shopping list.

"It might take me $1,000 to get them everything they need and that's money I don't have," said Stultz. "These things are great. As long as it does not look outdated, they will be glad to wear them."

Tina Joyce, shopping with her two daughters, limited selections to what the girls truly needed.

"We have to save things for other kids who don't have these things," she said.

Sharon Green found jeans for her 6-year-old son, "who is not into labels yet. Everything is easy to find. They have it really organized."

That organization took weeks, as volunteers sorted through donated clothing, culling the best for the store, which is actually a 60-foot shed -- with a section devoted entirely to denim.

As long as donations continue, the shelves will remain stocked. The community has supported the effort, said staff members.

Collection boxes for donations are at area malls. Among the most needed items are book bags, new underwear and socks and clothing for style-conscious teens.

"The idea is to give what you would want your children to wear to school," said Kathy Brown, director of Shepherd's Staff. "We want to fill a child's closet and make him or her feel good about going to school."

The store, at 30 Carroll St., Westminster, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, except Wednesday. Information: 410-857-5944.

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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