By Julie Muhlstein
When she first saw the need, Sharie Ennis was a PTA president with one daughter in elementary school and the other in middle school. Some kids didn’t have even the basics of a school wardrobe.
It was the 1980s. The difficulties of low-income families in the Edmonds district were often noticed first in classrooms or by school staff.
“We basically worked hand in hand with school nurses. They would come to the PTA and ask us for that extra pair of shoes. We did a lot of that,” Ennis said. “The nurse would come over, sometimes without the kids, sometimes with them.”
Now 73 and living in Marysville, she was recalling the start of what has grown into Clothes For Kids. Today, the Lynnwood-based nonprofit serves thousands of schoolchildren each year and reaches beyond the boundaries of the Edmonds School District.
To qualify for a visit to Clothes For Kids, where new and gently used clothing is displayed much like in a retail store, a student needs paperwork from a Snohomish County school district office showing they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
On Aug. 20, Clothes For Kids opened for its 31st school year. In the first three days of operation last week, the agency served 311 students, 149 boys and 162 girls. Program manager Nancy Laird-Burris said Clothes For Kids is likely to serve as many as 4,000 students this school year.
Ennis was involved before Clothes For Kids was established as a nonprofit organization in 1984. “A clothing closet had been set up by the PTSA (Parent Teachers Student Association) council when I got interested,” she said. That clothing closet was in the old Scriber Lake High School, Ennis said. It grew from a classroom into an unused locker room at the old Scriber Lake, where Ennis said then-principal Karol Gadwa was supportive of the clothing mission.
Closet volunteers tried to keep emergency supplies of clothing at each school in the Edmonds district. As schools began seeing more children from low-income families, “I could see we needed to do more — not just something in a brown paper sack,” Ennis said.
She continued as a Clothes For Kids volunteer through 1993. “I will never forget piles of laundry in my garage,” she said. As the agency’s founding director, she is still involved in Clothes For Kids events. “It’s been really heartwarming to go back,” she said. “They’ve done a wonderful job.”
A big part of that job is seeking donations of new and gently used clothes for preschool-age kids up to 12th graders. The goal is to give every child three pairs of jeans or other long pants, three pairs of new socks and underwear, a warm coat and a pair of new shoes.
“We’re always struggling to get more elementary age jeans, for both boys and girls,” said Joy Ingram, Clothes For Kids development director. The agency buys shirts and other items at big discounts, but donations of kids’ jeans are especially welcome. “Really, we can use gently-used anything, as people are cleaning out their closets for back to school,” she said.
Ingram said the agency’s growth beyond the Edmonds district started about five years ago with an effort to help families in the Mukilteo and Everett districts. “Last year, we expanded to all of Snohomish County and all of the Northshore School District,” she said.
With school supplies, sports fees, haircuts and other costs hitting families as kids head back to class, the need is great. About 38 percent of students in the county’s public schools were in the free or reduced-price lunch program last year, according to United Way of Snohomish County.
“It’s an expensive time of year,” Ennis said.
Since moving to Marysville, Ennis has volunteered with the Arlington Kids’ Kloset. Similar to Clothes For Kids, it serves families in the Arlington, Darrington and Lakewood districts. Ennis said one of the Lynnwood program’s original board members helped start the Arlington program more than a decade ago.
“It’s kind of nice to know we planted those seeds that grew branches to other places,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
kids for school
Clothes For Kids: Nonprofit has been providing low-income families with school clothes since 1984. Donations may be dropped 9 a.m.-noon Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays or 5:30-8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays at facility’s back door, 16725 52nd Ave. W., Suite B, Lynnwood. Serves Snohomish County students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. www.clothesforkids.org or 422-741-6500.
Other agencies providing school clothes:
Operation School Bell: A program of the Assistance League of Everett, it contracts with 14 school districts. Last school year, it helped 3,000 students. www.assistanceleagueofeverett.org/operation_schoolbell.html
Arlington Kids’ Kloset: Serves students who qualify for free or reduced lunch or attend ECEAP in Arlington, Darrington or Lakewood school districts. Contact school counselors for a referral. www.arlingtonkidskloset.com