Clothing Our Kids expands to reach more students in need

Clothing Our Kids was born in 2012, after Mary Rio learned from her husband John, a deputy head teacher at a Sussex County primary school, that a pupil was coming to school every day wearing the same soiled clothes. Through her efforts to help this student, she learned that others were in need and she developed an inventory of essential school clothes in her home. Friends heard about his initiative and wanted to help. Thanks to generous donations and over 100 volunteers, Mary was able to move the operation to a storefront and eventually grew to fill the volunteer center now located on Route 24 in Millsboro.

The agency receives clothing requests through school nurses, assistant counselors and other administrators who are intimately familiar with a student’s personal circumstances. New clothing is packaged at the volunteer center, delivered to the school representative upon request, and given privately to the student in need.

Clothing Our Kids now has nearly 150 volunteers. There are no paid staff and the nonprofit depends solely on donations from neighbors. The volunteer center and warehouse are his only expenses. Approximately 89% of donations are used for program expenses.

Mary Rio provided 850 garments to 150 students in 2012. Since COK’s inception, more than 28,000 children have received over 161,000 garments.

In its 10th year, Clothing Our Kids is expanding to colleges across Sussex County. Those in the sixth, seventh and eighth years are as vulnerable and need as much, if not more, than their younger counterparts. Organizers will be moving slowly through this space to ensure COK has the staff and funds to provide for these students. Therefore, it will only be one school at a time. After filling the first order for a middle school student who has been placed in foster care, volunteer center director Karen Borges said, “These are heartbreaking stories knowing she had so soon after being left in foster care. One can only imagine what his young life was like.

The group is also increasing its efforts to reach children in Head Start programs in Sussex County. Head Start was created to help babies living in poverty get a head start in their education, so the two organizations are aligned in their missions.

“It’s not just new clothes, it’s new life,” said Mary Rio.

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