Hundreds of families in northern Pima County and throughout Pinal County are unable to afford basic items for children, like a good pair of shoes or a warm jacket in winter.
A large group of warm-hearted SaddleBrooke residents are helping these folks in exactly the way they need it most — by providing children in preschool through eighth grade with new clothing, shoes and jackets.
Kids’ Closet was founded in 1998 by SaddleBrooke Community Outreach, and is manned by approximately 200 volunteers. It is housed in Gardner Learning Center, a former San Manuel middle school, according to Pat Ford, Kids’ Closet co-director with Marie Tayburn.
The program is important because “if kids don’t have clothes, they won’t go to school,” Ford said.
Part of the motivation to start Kids’ Closet came when the founders heard about a family in Mammoth. There were three kids, but no more than two attended school on a given day. It turned out all three were sharing the only two pairs of shoes the family owned.
When it started, Kids’ Closet was specifically targeted for Pinal County because so few services were available in that area. It’s now also available in parts of Pima County.
The Gardner facility is open three mornings a week from late September into early December, and again February through April.
“Schools make appointments and bring students by bus, or parents call and bring them in. We have 20 schools, including in Catalina, Coronado and San Carlos. Last fall there were 2,025 students; total for the year about 3,800,” Ford said.
Each school determines which students qualify for clothing. Generally, those on the federal free lunch program are eligible. The bus trips to San Manuel occur during the school day, similar to a field trip. About 20 volunteers are on hand to help the kids select and try on items in one of 12 dressing rooms.
“They select what they want just like shopping at a store. We want the kids to have that experience” since many of them have never been shopping. One child, Ford recalled, was ecstatic after her trip through Kids’ Closet as it was the first time she’d owned underwear that hadn’t been handed down.
Of course, money has to come from somewhere to purchase all these new clothes. Ford said about half is raised through the Golden Goose Thrift Shop in Catalina, and the other half through fund raisers, such as the annual fall walk-a-thon, and by direct donations taken in throughout the year. As a guideline, Ford suggested, “$65 will provide one child one semester of clothes.”
Donations may be made through SaddleBrooke Community Outreach; 63675 East SaddleBrooke Blvd., Suite L; Tucson, AZ, 85739. Kids’ Closet at Gardner Learning Center may be reached at (520) 385-4000. Pat Ford’s number is 818-9434.