Clothing Donations Empower Local PA Families


Since 2013, KenCrest and Cradles to Crayons have worked together to support Pennsylvania families with everyday essentials.

By Sydney Kerelo

Imagine a young mother in Pennsylvania raising twins, both of whom need Early Intervention services such as occupational, speech, and physical therapies. Balancing a full-time job, her children's needs, and the challenge of learning English as a second language, she tirelessly seeks community resources to help her family thrive. Each day presents a new hurdle, and her budget seems to stretch thinner.

At one point, she struggled to afford necessities like diapers, wipes, and new clothes for her children. However, with the support of KenCrest and its partnership with Cradles to Crayons, her life took a positive turn. She was given brand-new, quality clothing, wipes, diapers, and various books, alleviating a significant financial burden and allowing her to shift her focus back to her family.

Philadelphia, a city with the highest poverty rate among the top 10 most populated cities in the United States, is grappling with a significant crisis. According to the United States Census and The Promise Philadelphia Project, 22.7 percent of households are at or below the poverty line. This translates to over 350,000 people in financial crisis, with over 100,000 of those being children under the age of 18. The high poverty rate means that many families cannot afford everyday necessities like diapers, wipes, and clothing, making the work of organizations like Cradles to Crayons crucial.

Students at one of KenCrest's Early Learning Centers. // Photo by Sydney Kerelo

“People don’t realize that these people sometimes work two jobs, have a kid, and have to pay to travel between jobs,” says Michal Smith, Executive Director of Cradles to Crayons. “So, it's not easy to get a job, but then you have to work more than 40 hours a week and try to survive off of minimum wage or less. You’re still not covering your expenses. That’s why Cradles to Crayons is so important. Our mission is to provide kids living in low-income or homeless situations with the everyday essentials they need to thrive. We do that free of charge by connecting communities in the Greater Philadelphia region, helping about 300,000 children a year.”

Cradles to Crayons began in 2002 when founder Lynn Margherio noticed that her niece had a lot of outgrown or unused clothing. She thought, what if these could be given to children in need? So she started Cradles to Crayons in Boston and has since grown it substantially to Greater Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York City.

The organization collects gently used clothing in distributed collection boxes and purchases items like diapers, school supplies, hygiene items, underwear, etc. It engages with nearly 2,500 volunteers and 172 human services agencies—like KenCrest—to get the items to families in need. Regionally, there are about 35 drop sites where people can donate.

“Clothing is a basic human right that we need to fulfill for the kids in our region.”

Michal Smith, Executive Director of Cradles to Crayons

People worldwide can donate clothing items through Cradles to Crayons Giving Factory Direct. This app allows people to connect anonymously with a kid anywhere in the U.S. who needs clothes. They can ship their items to a local social services agency and then deliver them to that respected person.

“For families in need, organizations like Cradles to Crayons can provide what is needed so that families can let go of those worries and fully focus on their therapy sessions and support of their child’s development,” says Edie Harrison, Director of Program Services in KenCrest’s Home and Community Birth to Five. “In the 0-5 Home and Community-based Early Intervention program, the work is about supporting children and their caregivers. That primarily involves supporting caregivers to guide their child’s development based on the goals caregivers have for their child. For families to be able to focus on that work, their basic needs must be met.”

Another KenCrest parent has a two-year-old child with autism, and she recently delivered twin babies. As a single mother, she has to manage the various appointments for her two-year-old while also caring for newborn babies. She is exhausted, worn out, and struggles to meet all her children’s needs. As a single parent with three young kids, she hasn’t been able to work enough to pay all of their bills, plus additional expenses like diapers and wipes—which she has to buy in bulk for two babies. But KenCrest and Cradles to Crayons stepped in and provided her with the needed supplies. They supported her and helped her access her basic human needs.

Students riding tricycles during playtime at one of KenCrest's Early Learning Centers. // Photo by Sydney Kerelo

Not having the necessary resources like clothing, wipes, or even school supplies can be a huge barrier to many impoverished people. Children attending school are more likely to have trouble concentrating when they don’t feel like they fit in when they don’t have the proper school supplies, or wear clothes that fit them. It can be debilitating to a child’s education when they are ostracized when they don’t feel like they fit in with their peers. Having the right to proper clothing can be the difference between a kid succeeding in a program or spiraling, and no federal funding programs will help get families to get clothing.

“Philadelphia has the highest rate of poverty of any large city in the nation, and many children living there don’t have access to appropriate, adequate, or affordable clothing. If you don’t have access to clothing, it can be tremendously debilitating,” says Smith. “Clothing is a basic human right that we need to fulfill for the kids in our region.”