MILLSBORO — Basic needs for some young students in Sussex County have not subsided during the coronavirus pandemic, even though traditional education has diverted into hybrid and virtual formats.
Clothing Our Kids, a charity founded by Mary Rio in 2012, has evolved into an award-winning 501(c)(3), with over 150 volunteers and a permanent facility on John J. Williams Highway in Millsboro.
And its work continues amid COVID-19.
Since its inception, more than 146,650 articles of clothing have been distributed to more than 26,110 elementary school kids.
“In December, we actually distributed over 3,000 articles of clothes,” said Clothing Our Kids President Kate Gibson in a Jan. 7 posting on COK’s Facebook site. “And that’s all because of you.”
The “you” referenced is the small army of volunteers and huge community generosity, which have kept COK operating at normal speed during abnormal times, working toward its mission to improve the lives of at-risk elementary-level students by providing them with essential clothing.
While traditional schooling has been disrupted, clothing and other apparel basics are still making their way to needy children identified through the school system.
“It is the same as it was before,” said Clothing Our Kids Communications Director Kathleen Blouin. “The school nurses, teachers, assistant principal, a counselor will identify a child in need, and they will get in touch (with) us. We will deliver to the school, and the school provides it directly to the family. It’s the same way we’ve always done it.”
In addition to elementary schools, COK also reaches out to local Head Start programs.
“This has been a year overflowing with challenges, learning and silver linings,” said Ms. Blouin. “Our 100% volunteer organization has been blessed with new and continual foundation support and general donations. Through this assistance, we were able to reopen, come to the assistance of school nurse emergency closets and clothe over 600 kids.”
Last year was a fundraising challenge. COK had to cancel its annual mega-fundraiser auction due to COVID-19.
But financial support has continued through grants and donations.
Atop the list of donors is the Schell Family Foundation, with its $10,000 annual gift.
COK also received a $6,000 donation from St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church; $5,000 each from the Tidemark Federal Credit Union Foundation, the Carl M. Freeman Foundation, the Delaware Curative Workshop, the Rock Harbor Foundation and Sussex County Council; and a $3,450 Sussex County Health and Social Services Grant.
COK also acknowledged the generous support from, among others, Lewes Presbyterian Church, the Hamlet Women’s Club, the All Saints’ Parish Thrift Shop, The Greater Lewes Foundation, Melaleuca, Silicato Commercial Realty, the Draper Holdings Charitable Foundation, The Bank of Delmarva, Community Bank Delaware and IBM.org.
“We are truly blessed by the kind generosity of our neighbors,” said Ms. Blouin.
Ms. Gibson agreed.
“Each and every one of you play a great role,” she said. “No roles are too small or too big. We are just grateful for everything that you do.”
Since 2015, COK has been one of the fortunate beneficiaries of the Schell Family Foundation, comprised of Joe and Debbie Schell, Chris and Lori Schell, Preston and Kathleen Schell and Susie and Drew Matter.
Kathleen Schell serves on COK’s board as director of strategic planning.
Major fundraising plans dot the 2021 calendar. There’s a virtual auction this spring and resumption of COK’s fall golf tournament.
“We had one auction that was very successful in 2019. We had to cancel it, of course, for 2020, and we’re looking at a virtual auction this year,” said Ms. Blouin. “The auction usually takes place in the spring, so that is why we are still kind of concerned about gatherings in the spring, So it will be a virtual auction. It will probably be a weeklong auction, most likely in April.”
COK’s golf outing is scheduled in September at The Peninsula Golf & Country Club in Millsboro.
More definitive details on these events will be forthcoming.
“We wanted to thank these donors first,” said Ms. Blouin.
At COK’s center in Millsboro, safety precautions are taken for volunteers.
“When we opened the center, of course, we (went along with) all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, making sure that the volunteers were safe. We did a deep cleaning. Mask-wearing is mandatory. There is plenty of hand sanitizer and wipes,” said Ms. Blouin. “We’re keeping our volunteers safe.”
The “average” clothing order covers one school week worth of clothes, which equates to five outfits. That would be five tops, five bottoms, underwear, one hoodie and pajamas. Socks and shoes are included, if needed.
In cold weather, children also receive a winter coat, hat and scarf.
In addition, COK keeps nurses’ closets at schools stocked with socks, underwear, sweatpants, sweatshirts, T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts. The stock also includes clothing in sizes for older children.
Shopping excursions include Walmart, Old Navy and other popular children’s stores.
A monetary donation of $250 provides a child three new school outfits, shoes, underwear, socks and a seasonal jacket, $50 provides one new school outfit and $25 provides one pair of shoes or a seasonal jacket.
COK welcomes donations, which can be made by sending a check to COK, 26582 John J. Williams Highway, Millsboro, DE 19966.
How it all started
Clothing Our Kids’ founder, Mary Rio, originally from St. Marys, Pennsylvania, met and married her husband, John, in 1969. While raising her two children, she maintained a full-time career initially as the head teller for a local bank and then eventually as the office manager for an HVAC business.
Ms. Rio retired in 2006 and the Rios moved to Delaware in 2009, where her husband accepted a position as an assistant principal at a local elementary school.
One day, Mr. Rio told his wife about a young girl at his school who had only one set of clothes, which she wore every day. The Rios helped this child with some new outfits and then learned that this problem was more prevalent in Sussex County schools than anyone could ever have imagined.
In 2012, she founded Clothing Our Kids and operated the newly founded organization out of her home with the help of a few friends. Over time, it has blossomed into the charity it is today.
Ms. Rio also is COK’s board member emeritus.