It didn’t look like your typical shopping mall boutique, but the piles of dresses, shirts, and shoes covering cafeteria tables at a local Key Peninsula school would have impressed even the most discriminating shopper.
It was a bargain-hunter’s dream for dozens of families who participated in the annual Clothing Exchange at Evergreen Elementary School during October conference week, picking up gently-used coats, pants, dresses, shirts, and accessories with an unbeatable price tag — free.
The organizer of the event, Karen Payseno, said the event started in 2006 and has grown from a few tables in an empty school classroom, to filling the entire school gym with an abundance of clothing.
Payseno is a family support worker for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) at Evergreen Elementary, and she started the exchange when parents expressed their concern about providing clothing for their growing children.
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“Clothes are expensive and children grow out of them really fast,” Payseno said. “The clothing exchange allow families to take as many garments as they need, without having to worry about cost.”
Donations for the exchange come from Key Peninsula community members, teachers, and surprisingly, from the families they are helping.
“The great thing about this event is that it not only helps families on a tight budget, but it gives them the opportunity to donate back to the clothing exchange themselves, giving everyone a feeling of community,” said Jane Duea, Community In Schools of Peninsula Site Coordinator at Evergreen Elementary.
Duea, who helped coordinate the event, said it has been rewarding to see how it has helped families. Her favorite story was that of a young mom who came in looking for a suit for a job interview, and was really excited when she found the perfect outfit.
“I was so excited when I learned that she got the job!” Duea said.
Both organizers think this would be a great program to duplicate at other schools, because what feeling is better than wearing a new coat, shirt, or shoes to school … except for those wearing the smiles they have, knowing they are both giving and receiving.