Back-to-school means shopping for a new first-day-of-school outfit for many kids.
But some students aren’t able to get new clothes at any point in the year. The Lost and Found Children’s Clothing Center at Trinity United Methodist Church aims to help with that.
Dee Adams, media specialist at Ralston Public Schools, was struck with the idea after a Meadows PTO meeting in January 2012. At the meeting, parents were discussing the success of the mitten drive the school had participated in, and discussion turned to how nice it would be to have a clothing drive year-round.
Ultimately, they decided it wouldn’t work, as the school had no washer or dryer and no space to store the clothing.
Driving home, Adams remembers thinking: “Wait a minute. My church has a completely empty basement and a washer and dryer.”
She called Trinity and got the go-ahead from Pastor Tom Buckley, then called Meadows Principal Lisa Schroeder. Schroeder got the okay from the district office, and the project was set to begin.
Schroeder, Buckley, Ralston Middle School guidance counselor Melissa Jacobberger, district social worker Marilee Cloonan and church member Judy Dappen joined Adams to form the project’s steering committee.
Two short months later, Lost and Found opened its doors in March 2012.
Adams said the center’s name represents the connection between the church and the district.
The original clothing donations for the project came from items left unclaimed in school lost-and-found boxes, which were then washed, processed and sorted by size. It also represents the verse in the hymn “Amazing Grace,” which runs: “I once was lost but now I’m found.”
The volunteer-operated center is open from 1 to 4 p.m. every Tuesday, but the center will stay open later or make special appointments if they receive phone calls from someone who is unable to make it during that window.
“There are things like apartment fires or people being flooded out,” Adams said. “You never know when you’re going to need new clothes because of an emergency.”
The Lost and Found Clothing Center has no budget and operates entirely on donations. Adams will send out an email to congregation members and school staff if there is a particular need, such as a family that is looking for a certain size or item of clothing.
“Parents fill out a form when they come in, and we try to get as many things as we can, but we don’t always have everything in supply at that exact time,” Adams said.
“Luckily, we have great shoppers who hunt for sales and use their Kohl’s coupons and things like that to support us. It’s great to have that backing.”
The Center puts out ads in local publications, as well as on Craigslist, and Adams said they have gotten an “incredible response” in terms of donations.
“A lot of people come in from other area churches to donate,” she said.
Both Adams and Tracy Heiman were assigned to help at the Center by Mark Adler, superintendent of Ralston Public Schools, as part of his stewardship pledge for the district.
Ralston Public Schools is connected with the program in other ways, as well. Linda Richards and Deb Gerch, both members of the Board of Education, also work for Hy-Vee and donate overstocks of bread to the center.
Janice Dwyer, a Trinity United congregation member, had the idea to also make books available at the Center, and teachers who are retiring or changing grades often donate their classroom libraries.
The Lost and Found Center also accepts donations of adult clothing.
Many high school students wear adult sizes, and Adams sometimes invites parents or grandparents who are there to look for children’s clothes to look for something for themselves as well.
“We have a couple of women who attribute their new jobs to us,” Adams said. “They got their interview outfits from our clothing center.”
The Lost and Found Clothing Center is open to anyone who feels they have a need.
Adams said those who come to the center are not asked to provide information about whether they are on food stamps or how much money they make in a year.
They are only required to provide a working phone number, so the center can contact them if items they were looking for come in as donations. Over 300 children have received clothing through the program so far.
Those interested in receiving or donating clothing can contact Trinity United Methodist Church at (402) 331-4054 or stop by the church at 8009 Q St.
Items currently needed include new, packaged boys’ underwear, winter coats, tennis shoes of all sizes and snowboots.