Even behind a mask, it’s easy to see Mason Stacy, 5, grinning when you ask him about kindergarten.
“It’s great. I have,” he says, pausing to count in his head, then finally finishing, “I have a lot of friends.”
And that’s exactly what Dianna Schneider loves about Kids Kloset. The local organization allows kids to focus on enjoying school, regardless of their family’s ability to purchase new school clothes. And now in a new year-round format, Schneider said they are able to help the kids who need it most.
“These are the kids we missed, the kids who would go through the hole,” Schneider said. “It’s just so great we’re able to serve these kids now.”
Started in 1989 by St. John’s Episcopal Church (now St. Timothy Episcopal) Kids Kloset began as a one-day event where local families were invited to come get their kids outfitted for the new school year for free. The nonprofit has been hosted at Immanuel Lutheran in Centralia since 2001 but Schneider was quick to point out that it is supported by several local church congregations, as well as local businesses and individual donors.
“Our wonderful community helps us financially stay alive,” Schneider said. “And I’m not talking big businesses, I’m talking individual people who give to Kids Kloset. That has been huge.”
Over the years, the one-day distribution for Kids Kloset reached tens of thousands of kids. Last year, though, the decision was made to pivot the ministry from a single event to a year-round offering. The one-day distribution had its flaws, Schneider noted. For one, organizers had no way of knowing if single distribution was actually helping the neediest families. Schneider said she often heard from families that were not available on the particular distribution day or could not find transportation to the event. Having a stock of clothing for kids available year-round could also help parents whose kids outgrow clothes or need winter items later in the school year.
“We have the ability to say to these parents ‘I’ll see you in six months,’” Schneider said.
With the new year-round format for Kids Kloset, assistance is offered through private appointments made on a referral basis for students in any grade through high school. Schneider said using referrals means they get in touch with families who truly need help and the private appointment eliminates the worry for students who may have stayed away from the distribution event for fear of schoolmates possibly seeing them there. And what used to take hundreds of volunteers and one grueling day of work has been reduced to a job that is easily managed by a volunteer staff of just a few people.
“It’s way better and it’s hitting the people who really need it,” Schneider said.
Schneider said she would recommend parents who may need assistance outfitting their kids for school contact their child’s teacher or school counselors for a referral. Kids Kloset does not offer school supplies but they do have a limited number of backpacks. With each student, volunteers attempt to outfit them with new jeans, shirts, socks, underwear, shoes and a gently used coat. Schneider said she and other Kids Kloset volunteers diligently shop sales to try to keep the right things in stock and to be able to give kids a choice of clothing when they come in.
“They are so happy with the shoes,” Schneider said. “That’s a big deal because shoes can be so expensive, especially for high school kids.”
Schneider said in extreme cases where families cannot find transportation, she has even delivered clothing for students.
So far this year, Kids Kloset has helped about 300 kids from districts throughout Southwest Washington get the clothes they need for school. Schneider said she thinks that’s pretty remarkable since they have relied on word of mouth to get the message out to schools and parents.
“I didn’t want to get overwhelmed,” Schneider said. “I really wanted to be able to get to the kids who really needed help.”