Stay-at-home Marine mom helping clothe those in need
CHAMPAIGN — A mother knows how fast kids outgrow their clothes, and Carolyn Morris is a mom who's found a use for a lot of those clothes.
The founder of a new Christian organization, His Kid's Closet, she has been collecting used children's clothing by the bagful through schools and churches and redistributing it to kids in need throughout the community.
For Morris, this just makes sense. People have so much clothing, so why not share?
"If everybody keeps donating, people will have what they need, when they need it," she said.
A 30-year-old Champaign mother of three, Morris spent 10 years in the Marines (including a year in Iraq) before she began clothing kids in need.
She and her husband, also a Marine, moved to Champaign last June from North Carolina so he could attend the University of Illinois.
Morris said she came up with the idea for His Kid's Closet as she started life in Champaign as a Marine Corps Reserve unit member and stay-at-home mom to three small children.
"I was just sort of looking at what I could do with what I have," she recalled.
That turned out to be a desire to get surplus clothes to kids, plus a garage at her house that has a 400-square-foot temperature-controlled storage space.
Here's how His Kid's Closet works: Donation boxes have been placed to leave your gently used, clean kids' clothing at 11 Champaign locations — eight public schools, one private school and two churches — plus two University of Illinois campus buildings. The organization then works with school social workers to get the donated clothes to children who need them.
So far, drop boxes are only at certain Champaign schools, but Morris said she will fill orders for kids at other Champaign County schools without drop boxes. Ideally, though, she would like to see those other schools add drop boxes, at least temporarily, to help make the program self-sustaining.
Over the summer, Morris said she plans to shift drop boxes to day care centers and more churches, while the schools are closed.
Clothing donations also come in from the local consignment store, All Things Kids, and the seasonal kids' used-merchandise sale, One Week Boutique, and a clothing distribution is done once a week at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to clients in the Women, Infants, and Children supplemental nutrition program.
The WIC clothing give-away is done with the help of volunteers, and Morris said more are needed to expand this service to twice a week. She will also need volunteers to replace many of the UI student volunteers who will be gone during the summer, she said.
This organization runs on all-volunteer labor, and without a money source other than what its own founder kicks in. Morris said she added to the clothing donations by buying some coats and shoes with her own money to give away, because they were on end-of-the-season clearance.
"There is no money coming in," she said. "I'm donating a little money to an account I have opened for it, so we can do basic necessities."
Morris has registered her organization with the state as a nonprofit and filed an application with the IRS to make His Kid's Closet a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. But while her application with the IRS is pending, His Kid's Closet is operating under a link with the nonprofit PTA at Kenwood Elementary School.
Donations can be made to the PTA with His Kid's Closet in the memo line, and the group will receive the money, PTA President Terra Larsen said.
So far, Morris said her garage and a bit of storage space at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is accommodating the clothing coming in. But she doesn't aim to hold on to any of the clothes for long.
"The faster we give it away," she said, "the less storage space we need."
Drop boxes for clean, used kids' clothing for His Kid's Closet are at 11 Champaign locations:
Kenwood, Robeson, Bottenfield, Westview, Garden Hills and South Side elementaries.
Edison and Jefferson middle schools.
Chesterbrook Academy (2208 S. Duncan Road only).
First Christian Church.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
On the University of Illinois campus, boxes are at:
The Activities and Recreation Center.
Campus Recreation Center East.
As many as 350 items of donated clothing have been redistributed in a single week.
Check out updates on the group's Facebook page and look for a chance to vote for the group in a contest that runs through the end of April. The winner gets a $2,000 prize.