Julie Kleshinski, executive director of The New Store, and Phil Mitchell of Mansfield City Schools’ SAFE program, watch as a boy selects clothing.
The New Store provided clothing for 1,100 Richland County children – kindergarten through eighth grade – during the current school year. Six hundred of them were from Mansfield City Schools.
The free clothing program and other services for children in need will be the focus of a reception for teachers and school administrators from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 20. The New Store is located in the Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center, 890 W. Fourth St.
Educators are asked to RSVP to Ralph Kelsay at 419-565-8935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served and guests are welcome.
Most client referrals come from educators who see children in need, said Julie Kleshinski, executive director of The New Store. The facility is operated by the non-profit Richland County Children’s Auxiliary.
“We want all teachers and principals to know what we offer,” said Kleshinski. “The clothing and shoes are new. Our focus is on allowing children to blend in with their peers and remove a distraction to the educational process. New clothes make kids feel good about themselves. Teachers and principals tell us it helps classroom performance.”
Eligible families must be enrolled in their school’s free or reduced-price lunch program. After eligibility is confirmed appointments are made for visits to The New Store.
Activity is heaviest on “dressing days” in August and September when as many as 80 children are served in a 2 ½ hour period. Parents are required to wait in the lobby as children are paired with a volunteer, many of them high-school students, for shopping in separate girls and boys sections. Racks of clothing give the appearance of a department store.
“We want kids to have a true shopping experience that parents might otherwise squash, even unintentionally,” Kleshinski said. “Some parents don’t understand completely at first, but when the kids come out with their clothes they’re fine with the choices. It’s a good experience for everyone.
“We have as many as 75 to 85 volunteers paired with kids during our heaviest shopping times. It is particularly dynamic when you see younger children paired with high-school students. They relate really well.”
Each child leaves with three pairs of pants, four shirts, a hoodie or sweatshirt, a pair of tennis shoes, a multi-pack of underwear, a bag of personal hygiene items, a McDonald’s gift certificate and an age-level book.
Phil Mitchell is a coordinator of Mansfield City Schools’ Student Achievement through Family Engagement (SAFE) program, which aids homeless children in the district. He knows first-hand the positive impact of The New Store.
“I call Julie several times each school year when we find a kid who needs clothes or shoes. She always comes through immediately,” Mitchell said.
“For example, we had a boy at Malabar who needed shoes. We told her the size and she sent three pairs and told us to have him pick the one he liked best.”
The New Store is funded by grant money from TANF (temporary aid to needy families), private foundations and donations from individuals, businesses and corporations. In addition to monetary donations, several local businesses and industries allow employees to provide on-site help, such as sorting and stacking clothing, shoes, book bags, toys and other items.
“We have an awesome team of volunteers. They make all of this work,” said Kleshinski, the only salaried person at the New Store. “Our volunteers include high school clubs, including Key Club at Mansfield Senior High, and local athletic teams.”
The real trick to providing so many clothes, shoes and related supplies is stretching every available dollar. Kleshinski and two other buyers do that through close working relationships with local and area stores, often acquiring heavily discounted close-out and end-of-season clothing. Some items are donated.
Kleshinski recalled a recent Sunday afternoon at Sears, where she parlayed grant money into 310 winter coats that ended up costing less than $10 each.
“I had three registers going at the same time and it took me two trips to the loading dock,” she said.
“We have wonderful, supportive relationships with many local retailers and employers. We are so grateful for their help.”
Other programs offered by The New Store include:
-- Anthony’s Kids, which enables children to attend a week at Hidden Hollow camp in the summer. This year all 13 children were selected by staff at Malabar Intermediate School.
-- The School Supply Program, which offers children in need a quality backpack filled with age-appropriate contents. This year 2,300 backpacks were prepared to be given away.
-- The Christmas Program provides gifts to 1,000 children from infant to age 18, referred by social service caseworks who identify their neediest children.
-- The Youse Athletic Program is offered to Kinship families to help children participate in athletic or other healthy endeavors.
For more information about The New Store, including serving as a volunteer, visit thenewstore.org on the Internet.