Clothing kids in need started with a purple coat

Published April 10 2018
Updated April 10 2018


ST. PETERSBURG—Since it all started with a purple coat, that’s the new logo Clothes To Kids unveiled at its annual fundraising luncheon last week at the St. Petersburg Coliseum.

More than 15 years ago, Marie McClung heard from her sister, a teacher, that a student in her class had no coat of any kind during an unusual cold spell. McClung found a purple coat and took it to her sister’s class. Upon receiving the coat, the young girl’s face lit up and she didn’t take it off all week. The experience inspired McClung and her friend, Jode Eye to start Clothes To Kids, which gives away a week’s worth of gently used and new clothes to students in need.

After 15 years of distributing 128,000 wardrobes, the organization’s new logo is a picture of a purple coat with the tag line "Clothe a Kid, Change a Life."

Eye and McClung have long pointed to both research and hundreds of individual stories that show children who come to school without adequate clothing and shoes experience low self esteem, compromised academic performance, bullying and truancy. Having enough new underwear and socks, as well as second-hand pants and shirts in good shape can actually allow kids to feel better going to school and achieve more success.

Eye shared one of those stories with the crowd of more than 400 at the Coliseum.

"I talked with a grandmother at one of our stores and she told me, ‘I want you to know I got up this morning and I hurt. But shopping here (with her grandchildren) has given me more than clothes, it’s given me hope.’ "

Eye spoke of a 10-year-old boy shopping at the store who told her he wasn’t sure yet if he wanted to be a mechanical, electrical or civil engineer but he knew he was going to college.

Students from kindergarten to 12th grade who are referred by a school counselor or social worker can shop twice a year for a week’s worth of underwear, socks, tops, bottoms and a pair of shoes at Clothes To Kids stores in Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Applause broke out when executive director Patti Hanks announced the nonprofit organization just signed a lease to open a store in Tampa at 5011 Hillsborough Ave. She said she recently told a group of social workers the same news and the crowd cheered even more. The organization is in need of funds and donated clothes to get the Hillsborough store open by July.

As guests ate sandwiches and potato chips packed in brown bags, Hanks also told the crowd of supporters that 87 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to program costs.

Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at (727) 409-3642. Follow @snowsmith.