Cleveland is filled with purpose-driven nonprofit organizations and passionate changemakers. We find that inspiring, and we're happy to bring to you our monthly Do-Gooder Series, aimed at connecting you to the causes that make our hearts skip a beat. Support them by purchasing craft cocktails and beer at The Flea Bar, or by donating directly via their own websites. Often times, they'll even have a presence at our events, so don't be shy — let them know you're happy they're here doing good.
Shoes and Clothes for Kids provides a unique service for income-eligible families in Greater Cleveland by distributing new shoes, clothing, and items for infants and youth. We recently spoke with SC4K's Director of Development Emily Speer about the brass tacks of the non-profit's forty-year commitment to serving Cleveland's youth.
Cleveland Flea: Who is SC4K?
Emily Speer: Shoes and Clothes for Kids (SC4K) is more than just an organization. It’s a community of people and partners who are working together to make sure that lack of clothing isn’t a barrier to attending school for kids living in poverty. We were founded by a local businessman, Morrie Sayre in 1969 when he noticed kids playing outside who had no shoes and have been in business ever since.
SC4K is the only non-profit organization in Greater Cleveland providing new shoes and clothes to 10,000 kids in need at no charge throughout the year. Through our network of community based distribution partners serving 73 neighborhoods, SC4K positively impacts the lives of area children by giving them the self-esteem and confidence that comes from having brand new shoes and clothes.
SC4K has a small but mighty staff including myself, Program Director Monica Lloyd, Finance Director Jen Kelsch and Executive Director Terry Uhl. We have a committed Board of Directors, led by Tracy Jemison and a dynamic Associate Board for young professionals co-chaired by Elizabeth Nici and Patty Shipacasse.
On an annual basis, SC4K has more than 900 volunteers that provide help and expertise with everything from special events to office work to packing clothes for distribution in our warehouse.
CF: What’s your role at SC4K?
ES: I’ve been the Development Director at SC4K for a little over a year. My main focus is on raising the financial support needed to make sure our distributions can continue to operate and ultimately expand in order to meet the need for new clothing and shoes in the community.
Because SC4K is fully supported by philanthropy (we aren’t a United Way program and we don’t receive any governmental support), I am always looking for new ways to share our story and find ways to connect with individuals, companies and foundations who would support our mission and who share in our vision to make sure that lack of clothing isn’t a barrier to receiving an education.
CF: What would you like people to know about SC4K that they might not?
ES: One of the things I was most surprised to learn when I started was that socks and underwear are the most requested items from our distribution partners, and almost every day SC4K receives phone calls from school teachers who have students in desperate need. Although most people seldom think about it, new socks and underwear are critical when it comes to building a child’s pride and confidence – qualities that are essential to achieving success in school and in life. These are some of our most requested items, but least donated.
Also, SC4K is able to turn every donated dollar into $15-$20 worth of new clothing – like shirts, pants, coats and other items for children from birth to 18 – through our bulk purchasing program. In 2015, we distributed 112,960 items of brand new clothing valued at over $2.5 million, and we are on track to do the same this year.
People may not realize how easy it is to make a difference through SC4K. Besides making a donation, they can also organize a volunteer group to hold a packing day in the warehouse, or host a sock and underwear drive. Also, this September stay tuned for a new event called “Brown Bag It for SC4K” that will include a Social Share Day on September 15. This one day event will help to provide information not just about SC4K, but about our partners, volunteers, kids and the clothing gap in Cleveland … and, ways to make an immediate difference!
CF: Why do you think this is important to the Cleveland community?
ES: With more than 54% of local children living in poverty, many families are struggling to keep food on the table and pay rent. As a result, basic clothing items, including underwear and socks are often deemed a luxury, leaving many children to go without. Many of our families have caregivers working two or more jobs, but new clothing and shoes for the kids still remain out of reach.
We serve 10,000 children a year through our efforts, and our partners are primarily located in areas with high densities of children living at or below at least 185% of poverty. We also have a partnership with the Cleveland Municpal School District where we are providing school uniforms and other clothing items to kids who are part of their Project ACT program. This benefits kids who find themselves in a situation with unstable housing, who are homeless or who are living in temporary emergency shelters. SC4K feels strongly that lack of clothing shouldn’t be a barrier to school attendence, and we are coordinating with the CMSD to do our part to help.
CF: So, why do you love your job?
ES: I love how confident I feel when I get a new outfit or new shoes … and, I think it’s important for all kids to feel that way about themselves. It’s hard for a child to feel confident and go to school when they are wearing hand-me-down underwear or someone else’s clothing. The fundraising and community outreach I am able to do with the support of the SC4K Board and Associate Board is truly making an immediate and impactful difference in greater Cleveland. It’s amazing to know that the dollars we raise become so much more than a new outfit… they are providing kids new outlooks each and every day.
CF: Can you share a moment at SC4K that really had an impact on you?
ES: Last winter, we had a special shoe distribution at Payless thanks to the generosity of the Cleveland Academy of Trial Lawyers … their members sponsored the event and more than 200 local kids were able to come to the store and shop for the shoes or boots they needed. These children were so joyful about getting to pick out shoes that they wanted and that fit with Spiderman or Princess Elsa on them and their enthusiasm was contagious. I don’t think I stopped smiling all day.
The event was meaningful because it brought together so many of the aspects of the work of SC4K, with donors, volunteers, community partners and most importantly the children. There were kids at this event who had never gotten the opportunity to go into a store and pick out a new pair of shoes and seeing their proud smiling faces when they left was amazing. I’ve seen a lot of meaningful moments at SC4K, but this one touched my heart.