Campus & Community / Magazine

Nonprofit dresses low-income children for school success

Mary Overington helps a family shop for school clothes

Providing school clothes to low-income children improves school attendance and self-esteem, says Mary Overington (pictured on right). Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Mary Overington (MSW ’98) is eager to talk about why her work for Denver-based Clothes To Kids means so much to her.

“When I hear stories about kids who come in [to our store] and their eyes say, ‘Wow — I get to shop and pick out what I like,’ that’s the greatest part of this,” says Overington.

It’s a story Overington and the other founding members of Clothes To Kids of Denver Inc. hear often. Kids who can’t afford new school clothes visit the Clothes To Kids store, browse the racks, try on outfits and leave with a week’s worth of clothes — for free. That’s the mission of the nonprofit: providing low-income school-aged children clothing to encourage school attendance and self-esteem.

“The kids have said when they are in school they see other people that bully the kids who don’t come well-dressed,” says Overington, a social worker with Denver Human Services. “They are isolated and ostracized, and they don’t tend to join school activities.

“These clothes make them feel good about themselves, make them feel accepted, and I know that in these particular struggles — like grandparents raising their grandkids — and in this time of economic disparity, how do you choose between feeding your children and clothing them?”

The clothing — donated by retailers and individuals and often collected via clothing drives — goes to the organization’s store on Colorado Boulevard. Those who qualify (families must live in Denver County and be on a need-based financial assistance program such as a free or reduced school lunch plan) can visit the shop twice a year. They come home with new underwear, socks, five tops, four bottoms, shoes, a jacket and other accessories on each visit.

In the years since its 2008 founding, the nonprofit has served more than 4,000 children. “I’ve been a social worker for my whole career, but this has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done,” Overington says.

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