Rows of neatly folded red and blue sweatshirts and crisp new blue jeans in all sizes line the walls of the Lexington Woman's Club Clothing Center. Racks of warm coats and tubs of new socks, gloves and underwear fill the three floors of a converted home on Bullock Place that serves as the center's headquarters.
It's relatively quiet this time of year at the center, as woman's club members volunteer to inventory their clothing stashes and order new clothes in preparation for their busy season in the fall.
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From September through mid-December, the place will be bustling, as volunteers greet busloads of Fayette County public elementary schoolchildren each weekday morning and help them ”shop“ for school clothes to see them through the year.
”The kids feel like they're going to a department store. They love it,“ said club member D'Ann Nelson, a retired Fayette County elementary schoolteacher. Nelson said that when she was teaching, her students would return from a visit to the clothing center ”just elated.“
”Whatever they brought back, they wanted to wear right then,“ she said.
Students are identified for assistance by their teachers and counselors. School buses bring them to the center on their school's clothing day. Each student receives two pairs of jeans and two sweatshirts — or two uniforms for schools that use them — and a hat, gloves, a winter coat and seven pairs of socks and underwear. Along with those clothes, which the club buys with money raised during the year, children can pick outfits from among the center's supply of used clothing, donated by people and community organizations, said Terry Ivey, the club's communications chairwoman. Each student also takes away toiletry items and an age-appropriate book.
”They leave with big bags full of stuff,“ Ivey said.
The Lexington Woman's Club has operated a clothing center since the club's founding in 1948. At first, it operated the center out of an oversize closet at Ashland Elementary School, and the budget was $250 a year. Now with a $40,000 annual operating budget, the clothing center helps dress 1,300 children each year. In 60 years, the center has clothed more than 56,000 children, according to member estimates.
The club has had a long-running partnership with Dawahare's, which provides much of the new clothing to the group at cost, club president Meredith Mucci said.
The club has 44 active members, who each work at the center at least six times a year, or 18 hours. Those who cannot help dress children during weekday mornings often take on the job of washing all the donated clothes. The club's year-round Clothe-a-Child fund-raiser solicits $40 donations to support the center, and its annual Bids for Kids event, to be held Saturday, raises money for the clothing center and the club's scholarship programs.
Running the center is lots of work, but one look at the faces of the kids tells club members it's worth it, Mucci said.
”You get the little boy who looks at you, with wide eyes, and he's like, "You mean I get to take these home?' They're so excited. It's just wonderful,“ she said.
For the first time this year, students in Henry Clay High School's early childhood education class have taken turns volunteering two days a week at the center, helping out during shopping days as well as with sorting and inventory. It's a partnership the club hopes to continue.
”I like working with the little girls. They get so excited,“ said Henry Clay senior Victoria Moreland, who worked at the center last fall.
”The girls get excited about everything,“ classmate Michelle Pfeffer said.
”Even socks and underwear,“ said fellow senior Alex Jackson. ”It's just like shopping.“
On shopping days, the younger students relished the one-on-one time with the high schoolers, Ivey said.
”The children loved having the teenagers here. Especially the boys. (The high school boys) would look and say, "You're looking really sharp' and (the younger boys) would just beam,“ she said.
Said Charlotte Duncan, who teaches Henry Clay's early childhood education class: ”Working with the clothing center has been so rewarding for my students. Most of these students want to be elementary schoolteachers, and helping out at the center helps them feel they are making a difference in the lives of young children.“