Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Jode Frisbie Eye | Clothes to Kids, Inc.
One Florida spring day, first grade teacher Jode Frisbie Eye invited her class to the front of the classroom to sit on the floor. “One little girl came up to me and said ‘Mrs. Eye, I can’t sit like that, I don’t have underwear on,'” recounts Jode.
For this tiny innocent, like others in the classroom, it wasn’t a choice. There were too many students with dresses, pants, or shoes that were more than a few sizes off, or shirts that were threadbare. “You see everything when you teach,” says Jode.
This time, she decided to do something about it. “My daughter was in the second grade at my school, so we went through her things and called this little girl’s mom. She was happy to accept our clothes,” she recounts.
At that moment, the light went on for Jode. “I was so proud of my daughter because she sat with this little girl and helped her with everything and went through every bit of clothing so happy to share her clothes, not really understanding, but knowing she was helping this other student. “This,” she says, “became my urgent social issue.”
Around that same time, Jode’s childhood friend, Marie Bouchard McClung had a similar experience. Marie’s sister, Terry, was a teacher and Marie was a frequent classroom volunteer. On a morning when the weather turned unseasonably cold, Terry called Marie and said she had a little girl in her classroom who would not be able to go outside for gym class without a jacket. She asked Marie for help.
Marie quickly drove to a local store and bought a purple coat in just the right size. When she dropped off the coat she was touched by the deep gratitude of this little girl, who looked up at Marie with her smiling big brown eyes and offered a hug.
Sometime later, when Marie told Jode, her former Clearwater High School classmate, that she wanted to start a foundation, the mission became quite obvious to them both.
After regular meetings between the two at the Eye family’s kitchen table, Clothes To Kids was born. They created a vision: to provide school children with new and quality used clothing in a fun, dignified shopping environment, all free of charge.
“We were a perfect match. Marie’s background gave her the perfect business acumen, plus she was very organized. I’m neither. My skill set is talking to people,” says Jode, who has a master’s degree in educational communications. And, by this time, both had recently retired.
Following more kitchen planning sessions, the co-founders incorporated and starting collecting clothing in 2002. “From the beginning we said, ‘Let’s only do clothing,’” recalls Jode. “We saw other agencies and nonprofits who were offering other things, but decided to stick to clothing and do it as well as we could. We didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin.”
They started their research and according to Jode, acted on some sage advice from friends. “We volunteered at another agency to see it all firsthand and to take it all in, to be prepared. It was the best thing we could have done.”
At first, the two charitable chums were storing the clothes they collected in their garages. Help soon arrived. “We found volunteers who didn’t think we were crazy,” Jode says with a laugh.
Through generous donations from individuals and businesses in the community, Jode and Marie saw their vision of a unique department store for those in need become a reality.
It was fun to watch it grow,” Jode says. And grow it did. On June 11, 2003, the first Clothes To Kids store opened in Dunedin, providing 1,200 square feet of shopping space. They outgrew it quickly and moved to their current Clearwater location in 2005.
Four years later, a second Clothes To Kids Store opened in St. Petersburg. A year ago, another followed in Tampa serving kids in Hillsborough County.
Partnerships have blossomed. CTK now has affiliates in Colorado, Rhode Island, Connecticut and North Carolina. Last year, for the first time, Jode visited all four out of state stores.
“Clothes To Kids is a special place,” says Executive Director Jennifer Jacobs. “Marie and Jode created something very powerful with our mission, a true store. A place where kids can pick out their own clothes and feel good about what they have selected and what they have on.”
Jode, who has never taken a penny out of this 16-year project and still volunteers once a week at one of the stores, downplays her role. “It’s an easy sell, clothes and kids,” she says. “When they see that, people just get it. This wasn’t just the two of us. We had a lot of help from volunteers who wanted to help and had their own area of expertise.”
People like Cyndi Connelly. A lifelong Cubs fan who left Indiana for a lifestyle change, she discovered CTK through Trinity Presbyterian Church of Clearwater. Armed with a master’s degree in business administration from Indiana’s Valparaiso University, the mother of twin boys quickly struck up a partnership with Beall’s, a local department store, creating a new source of clothing possibilities.
“I had never heard of such a thing in my entire life. Who doesn’t have underwear?” says Cyndi, who brings her own unique, Midwestern brand of passion to the cause. “I feel sorry for the girls who can’t participate in activities or play games. If they’re not dressed properly, they can’t play games. With CTK’s help, they can. I am so happy to be involved with them.”
Clothes To Kids provides more than 80,000 pairs of underwear annually.
Students that qualify for free or reduced lunch are automatically eligible to shop at a CTK store, but all must make an appointment to regulate the number of shoppers in the stores at one time. Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents can come in and pick out what they need for their child.
Open year-round, the stores are manned primarily by volunteers; using more 1,400 hours of volunteer support each month between the three stores.
Research shows that children who go to school wearing clothes that make them feel like they fit in perform better academically than those who don’t. Clothes To Kids envisions a community in which every school-age child has quality clothing so that he or she may attend school with the confidence and self-esteem needed to achieve academic success.
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation
For more information go to ClohesToKids.org