Sending kids back to school in style

Young volunteers helping with Carroll clothes drive

July 27, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A Westminster charity has created a midsummer slogan to spur donations to its annual back-to-school giveaway.

Shepherd's Staff, an ecumenical ministry to the needy, is asking area families to "clean out your closets and fill ours" before its new program begins Aug. 9.

The charity finds itself short of school-appropriate clothing, particularly clothes for elementary pupils.

The collection of gently used clothing can help a child start class in cool duds, said Lois Giles, the organization's clothing drive coordinator.

And Shepherd's Staff has just the right volunteers to assess the coolness of donations.

Young volunteers from the West Middle Summer Learning Program are sorting, sizing and shelving donated clothing and are prepared for any new influx that might arrive with the last-minute appeal.

Their guideline for filling the Shepherd's Staff clothing shed comes down to: "If we wouldn't wear it, others wouldn't wear it. So don't put it in," said Dante Jefferson, 13.

"I really like this program, because it gives us something to do and we are helping other kids," he said.

To help offset the shortage in donations, the pupils, who give about 10 hours from their five weeks of classes to the charity, have organized their own clothing drive. They walk the 10 minutes down Carroll Street to Shepherd's Staff every morning, carrying boxes of clothing. At the center, they go through the donations for about an hour looking for things they deem "stylin'."

"This is all part of their service learning," said Sharon Welch, site coordinator for the summer school program. "They are exercising, learning and helping."

When families shop in the shed for outfits next month, they will find only the items that made the youngsters' final cut. As they comb through rows of neatly hanging shirts, dresses, slacks and jackets, shoppers also will discover several never-worn items that area businesses have donated.

Welch pulled out a pair of still-tagged designer faded jeans that her pupils told her any one of them would want to wear on the first day of school.

"Some people think what you wear is what you are," said Jennifer Schroeder, 14, of Westminster. "They will look at your outfits and decide how cool you are. We are all asking each other if we would wear it. If not, it goes in the discard pile."

Shelbi Valentine, 11, agreed. "It is not right, but it happens. Clothes are important and people are judged on their clothes."

A flared denim skirt, a pale-pink jacket and a pair of black pants with a silver belt all passed their scrutiny during a session last week.

Short frayed shorts, a personalized sweat shirt and a designer shirt, too stained to salvage, went into the discard bin.

"We are helping people who can't afford to buy clothes," said Nick Mottley, 11. "I have seen a lot of shirts that would help kids fit in with the cool crowd."

Giles said that in the past she has often been inundated with clothing donations to the point where she has had to say "no more."

But this year, "We are just not getting elementary school clothes," she said. "We need every size."

Rachael Jefferson, 11, is doing her second summer stint volunteering at the charity. She noticed the scarcity of school clothes among this year's donations right away.

"Last year, there were clothes stacked to the ceiling in the basement," Rachael said. "It took us a week to sort them all."

The charity helped more than 650 students last year, providing each with a backpack, school supplies, gift certificates for new shoes and haircuts, and a shopping experience in the shed. So far, nearly as many children have signed up for the giveaway and registration is open through Friday.

"We know the community will come through for us," Giles said. "They always do."

Shepherd's Staff will accept donations at its office at 30 Carroll St., Westminster. It has additional drop-off sites at TownMall of Westminster, Carrolltown Center in Eldersburg, Baugher's Restaurant in Westminster and all New Windsor State Bank branches. Information: 410-857-5944.

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