Community 4 Kids works to build strong community: ‘We chose to start with clothes’

Published 2:05 pm Thursday, December 9, 2021

Community 4 Kids, formerly Clothes 4 Kids, has appointments available at their Manteo center to help elementary students secure warm winter clothes at no cost.

Here’s how the process works: parents or grandparents can schedule an appointment online at https://www.c4kobx.org/schedule/. The facility is in the same building as the Monarch Club in Manteo, on the corner of Barlowe St. and Hwy 64. Due to COVID-19 concerns, only one family is scheduled per hour. When the adult and child(ren) arrive at the center, a volunteer will give them 25 tickets and show them around the different rooms. Each child can select one winter coat and then “pay” for about 6-10 items of clothing with the tickets.

“We’ve designed it to be a shopping experience,” said founder and president Katy Bell. The center is decorated in bright colors, with paintings and inspirational quotes on the wall, and all clothing items are carefully vetted by volunteers for quality. “We ask kids, ‘what’s your style, what colors do you like?’ and then they get to try clothes on in a dressing room, just like they’d do in a regular store. It’s a lot of fun,” she said. C4K offers not only clothes but shoes, pajamas, hats and scarves for elementary students aged 4-12. There is a play area for younger siblings and a box of clothes for preschoolers. The center served about a hundred kids in 2020, and hopes to increase that number to 150 this year.

Clothes are sorted by gender and size, and because space is limited, Community 4 Kids only displays the nicest, in-season clothes that are donated. Out of style items are passed on to thrift stores, while stained items get tossed. Summer clothes are kept in boxes for one annual event hosted at Kelly’s Automotive in Manteo.

C4K is open to all elementary students in Dare County; there’s no income requirement or personal information collected. Upcoming open dates are December 11, 18, 20, 21, 22, 28 and 29. If someone has a significant need and can’t make available appointment times, families are encouraged to contact C4K and request a different time. Specifically, if a foster child needs clothing immediately, foster parents can call C4K to make arrangements.

C4K was started in 2020 after a string of things that made Bell start thinking. First, while volunteering at her son’s elementary school, she noticed that many of the children needed warmer or better fitting clothes. Shortly after, in a conversation with a local pediatrician, the doctor remarked, “I see kids at the bus stop every day who need a coat.” Later, while sorting through her son’s clothes at home and realizing he had more than enough to share, the idea for Community 4 Kids was born.

For Bell and the other board members, it’s about much more than apparel. “Everyone has a need and everyone has something to offer. We chose to start with clothes,” states their website. “C4K strives to empower our youth to overcome obstacles and thrive as individuals. Everyone wins when we show our young people at an early age that they play an important role in the family, school, and community.”

“We tell kids: ‘Your community thinks so much of you that they want you to have clothes that are warm and comfortable. You are part of the community too.’ We want them to have the message. There’s a sense of community, of giving back,” Bell said. One of the ways C4K communicates this is through the paper t-shirts that each child receives before they leave. Each shirt has an age-appropriate suggestion written down of how they can give back, like helping a younger sibling with homework or doing a chore without being asked.

Bell realizes that a strong sense of community takes time to develop and it’s built through a combination of giving and receiving, of feeling a part of something bigger than yourself. “Some of these elementary students are going to be having kids in 15 years. We are starting in a small way to instill a sense of community,” she said. And though the need they are currently meeting is clothing, the long-range goal is to foster a sense of community among young people in Dare County. “When I talk to people, they agree – it seems like our community is getting watered down. Kids chipping in and helping others isn’t happening as often.”

C4K is offering opportunities to invest in the community. Many Manteo High School students are not only meeting their National Honor Society community service requirement by volunteering at the center sorting and organizing clothes, but discovering the joy of working alongside others to help those in need.

“At first [I volunteered here] just because I needed the community service hours, but now I feel like I enjoy helping out less fortunate kids,” said Manteo senior Jose Perez, who works at the center twice a month.

As he was separating summer and winter clothes in bins, Trevor Price said, “I like helping out with the community and giving back to it.”

Senior Brisa Torres said, “I like volunteering here because I can relate. When I was little my mom and I struggled finding clothes so being able to help other kids warms my heart.”

Bell has a vision of connecting elementary students to high school mentors with similar interests. “If you’re great at math or art or baseball, we’d love to get students to volunteer an hour a week after school.” But for now, in their second year, Bell is focused on getting the word out and reaching families.

Families can sign up for an appointment at https://www.c4kobx.org/schedule/ or by calling 252-216-6033.

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