Photo Courtesy of Elaine Darer
Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association is returning to its pre-pandemic format this school year: Students and families can again go to the organization’s clothing center to pick out their clothes.
The organization, founded more than 90 years ago by Evanston/Skokie School District 65 parents, provides clothing to any Evanston child based on requests. During the pandemic, ESCCA pivoted to online orders, where a volunteer would select clothes for a child based on their sizes, and the family would pick up the order curbside.
Since switching back to the in-person format, co-President Elaine Darer estimated that 90% of families are coming to ESCCA’s clothing center at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center, compared to 50% during the 2021-22 school year.
“When (students) come in person, you know that they’re going to be happy with what they go home with,” Darer said. “When we do curbside orders and you’re picking out the clothes for them, hoping that they’re the sporty kid or that they’re the preppy kid, you just don’t know.”
So far this academic year, ESCCA has served 55 elementary and middle school students, with an additional 69 students scheduled, Darer said.
Evanston’s parents founded the organization in 1931 when a district physician found out that large numbers of students were absent from school because they did not have adequate clothing, according to the ESCCA’s site.
Volunteer Enid Shapiro, who runs ESCCA’s coat division and has volunteered with the organization for more than 12 years, emphasized that the organization does not have a financial need requirement.
“We can give a complete wardrobe to anyone in the school district that asks for services,” Shapiro said. “We don’t turn anyone away. If they want to come, they can come.”
Shapiro said every child gets underwear, a winter coat, lightweight coat, snow pants, winter boots and an assortment of hoodies and sweatshirts. Shapiro ensures that donated coats are in good condition and even purchases additional coats using monetary donations. Evanston residents can also drop off items in a metal bin outside of the early childhood center at 1500 McDaniel Ave.
Darer said school social workers and health clerks can refer families to ESCCA if they notice a child lacks adequate winter clothing.
“There are emergencies every day where we are able to make a kid’s life more comfortable and more equitable when they walk into class in the morning,” Darer said.
Emily Erickson, a health clerk at Walker Elementary School and ESCCA’s District 65 Health Clerk Liaison, connects students and families with ESCCA’s services. If a family contacts her, or a teacher notices a student is wearing the same clothes over and over again, Erickson fills out a service request form to notify ESCCA of the student’s needs.
Erickson also ensures that every health office in the district has spare sweatshirts and jackets if a student needs something in the middle of the day. If parents are uncomfortable reaching out to ESCCA to make an appointment, Erickson said she asks volunteers to deliver items directly to school social workers and health clerks.
Still, Erickson said she enjoys seeing kids shop at ESCCA’s clothing center after more than a year of largely online orders.
“I like seeing kids really have a good time picking out clothes and having a say in what they’re what they’re going to wear,” Erickson said. “Because if you look good, you feel good.”
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