The school year is about to begin for students across the Region, and that means back to school shopping is in full swing. Getting a classroom-ready wardrobe is a must on that list for many young learners, but for families struggling to make ends meet this may be difficult or nearly impossible to provide. That’s why Lisa Hauser and Julie Douglas founded Dressed for School (DFS), a new nonprofit that aims to help elementary-age kids from families in need by providing them with quality clothing free of charge.
“Julie and I were both Tri Kappa members and saw that there was a need in the community for quality clothing for children,” Hauser said. “We wanted to do something on our own to help fill that need, so we started Dressed for School.”
“We also saw through Tri Kappa that this is a really generous community where if people see a need, they immediately want to do what they can to help,” Douglas added. “We thought if we could bring attention to this need for clothing, the people here wouldn’t hesitate in helping; I think we’ve done just that, and the support we’ve received so far is incredible.”
DFS officially incorporated in January of 2019 and will have its first distribution of clothes this month. Hauser and Douglas run their charity out of a store based in Valpo. Each child who comes in is free to shop for their own clothes and leaves with an entire week’s wardrobe that includes five tops, four bottoms, five pairs of socks and five pairs of underwear.
“What we’re hoping to do with that process is build kids’ self-esteem, give them a little bit of ownership of their clothing and make them feel really happy about what they’re wearing to school,” Hauser said. “Studies have shown that when kids are dressed appropriately for school, both their attendance and performance in the classroom improves; that’s what we’re trying to create for these kids from financially struggling families.”
The organization relies on donations of clothing that are collected through monthly drop-off events. The most recent drop-off took place Saturday morning at Foundation Meadows Park in Valpo during the annual local 1124 Picnic with a Fireman.
“We started this picnic as a way to give back to the community and try to make it one last day of fun for kids before they go back to school,” said firefighter Chad Elwood. “People come out for the fun and the food, but we like to also team up with another organization that does a service to the community. This year we have Dressed for School out here, and it’s great that our guests can also donate to them while they’re here having fun.”
Kohl’s is a great partner for DFS, and Hauser and Douglas make use of “Kohl’s cash” whenever they receive monetary donations to purchase clothes with. Diane Hager and her team of Kohl’s representatives came out to the picnic to help run the drop off event.
“Kohl’s does this great thing with communities where we can volunteer with any 501c3 foundation, and for every group of five associates who volunteer for a minimum of three hours we can donate $500 to that organization,” Hager said. “It’s been so fun working with Dressed for School. They do a lot of their shopping through Kohl’s and today was a great day to come help them out even more.”
Groups of people continued to stop by the DFS tent to make donations, including a group of inspiring young girls. Avery and Penny Mullin and their friends Ione and Fiona Skafish, students at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Flint Lake Elementary School respectively, took part of their summer break to collect donations for DFS, showing up to the drop-off with several bags of brand-new clothes. This wasn’t the first time the girls had given back to the community, and Avery Mullin shared about the group’s efforts to do good.
“Last year we did a bake sale during a garage sale to raise money for Lakeshore PAWS,” Mullin said. “This year we decided to do a lemonade stand for a different organization. We found this one and really liked it.”
“It feels really good to do this for other kids,” the girls agreed. “We definitely want to keep doing things like this in the future.”
Quinn Mullin, mother of Avery and Penny, said she and Jenn Skafish, mother of Ione and Fiona, try to teach their girls the importance of philanthropy, and contributing to DFS was the perfect way to put that into practice.
“We’ve had lots of good conversations with them about giving back, and that’s taught them a lot of lessons as well,” Mullin said. “Working towards this goal has shown the girls that not everybody gets to go and buy new school clothes, that getting to do so is really is such a privilege. We’re proud of them for taking that to heart and wanting to help other kids like them get that same experience.”
To learn more about Dressed for School and their upcoming drop-off opportunities visit https://www.dressedforschool.org/