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Non-profit started by childhood friends gets extra clothes to kids during pandemic

Jode Eye and Marie McClung started Clothes To Kids in 2002.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The non-profit outfitting thousands of children in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties got its start thanks to a purple jacket on a brisk winter day in Florida.

“Marie (McClung) went to the store and picked up a purple jacket,” Clothes to Kids executive director Jennifer Jacobs said, retelling her outreach’s humble beginnings. The jacket was taken to a needy child in McClung’s sisters classroom. “She took (the jacket) to the school.

“When a child is in need let’s do what we can.”

That was just before McClung and her childhood friend, Jode Eye, made the decision to start Clothes to Kids. The non-profit was officially launched in 2002. Since its inception, the Clearwater-based non-profit has given away over 158,000 wardrobes to children who qualify for free or reduced lunch programs in Tampa Bay.

Clothes To Kids has grown tremendously over the past few years and now give away about 1,000 outfits per month. All of the clothes are either donated or purchased with financial donations. Typically, kids who qualify visit one of three area locations and “shop” for five days-worth of clothing items. The clothes are free to students and range in sizes to fit anyone from elementary to high school age. Each child also receives five free, unused pairs of socks underwear.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, that traditional giving model has changed for Clothing To Kids.

“We have been serving our personalized bonus bags and we started those on May 18 and since May 18 at three today, we’ve done 1200 personalized bonus bags,” said Jacobs. “There’s a huge need. More than half of all students in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which of the counties that we serve, more than half of all students qualify to shop at clothes to kids.”

Even though school has ended, the need has not died down. In Hillsborough, 61 percent of students qualify to shop at Clothes For Kids. In Pinellas, 48 percent qualify. Jacobs says over 6,000 pairs of underwear have been given out in the last three weeks.

Every kid leaves with clothes and a smile.

“It’s an honor to call this my life’s work. When you were thinking about a child in need, clothes shouldn’t be something that they need. Underwear shouldn’t be something that a child has to worry about whether or not they have.

Since the pandemic, Clothes For Kids is now filling wish lists for clothes to fill out their bonus bags. Volunteers try to match donated items with each child’s wishes. It’s not ideal, but it’s getting clothes to the children who need them during an uncertain season of COVID-19.

“We just love the in-person shopping with the children, but it is fun and it’s our reimagined way of shopping,” said Jacobs. “We hope that our in-person shopping resumes as quickly as possible.”

There are three Clothes For Kids locations. The main storefront is located at 1059 N Hercules Avenue in Clearwater. Others are found at 5011 W Hillsborough Ave in Tampa and 2168 34th Street South in St. Petersburg. Their motto is "Clothe A Kid. Change A life."

It all started with a purple jacket.

“The goal is to keep doing clothes and to keep letting people know how we do clothes and the awareness factor of letting people know that this is a service here in this community,” said Jacobs with a smile.

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