Mary Ellen King has worked with thousands of families over three decades as a childcare director. She knows the struggles that many parents face, not the least of which is financial struggles. This came to light when she was working with a single dad of four children. “He wasn’t bringing snowsuits for his children. We love playing outside at recess. I kept reminding him. He replied that he has trouble getting his children out of the house each day to get to child care before he has to report to work,” she said. Mary Ellen went to Walmart that day and purchased four snowsuits for his children. This dad’s struggle was not unusual. She and the teachers at the Methuen Y wanted to start a clothing exchange to help parents.
Coincidentally at about the same time, the Merrimack Valley YMCA was offering a competitive staff innovation grant, where staff could do a ‘Shark Tank’ like pitch and potentially win funding for an innovative Y program. Mary Ellen worked with child care staff to prepare the pitch. Out of 20 competitors, they won $2,500 in seed money to start a clothing exchange program, which became the My Kids Closet at the Methuen YMCA. The doors opened in January 2021. Initial funding helped with the purchase of clothing racks and bins, as well as a washer and dryer to assure that all clothing that is passed along is new or freshly laundered. “We also have laundry fairies (staff and parents) who volunteer to take home clothing to wash,” she said.
“One Saturday every month for two years we have opened My Kids Closet. I’m proud of that. We are a steady resource for parents. Parents make an appointment for a shopping slot,” Mary Ellen said. They average about 25 client visits on the second Saturday of every month and have clothing sizes 2T through size 14. “Our support has been tremendous. This year the Kids Closet was awarded $2,500 from ECCF’s Greater Lawrence Community Foundation. Also, Cathy Redard (Executive Director of Child Care at Merrimack Valley YMCA) received a generous donation from her nephew, who works at Lucky and Me, of $6,000 worth of children’s clothing including tops, leggings, and underwear. Our parents are so grateful!,” Mary Ellen said.
“My Kids Closet is an incredible program. The Y as a community resource center is wonderful. Times are so tough. Every little bit helps parents. When you’re in a tough financial spot choosing between paying for medications or paying your rent or paying for diapers or formula – taking one expense off your plate is great. Clothes are expensive. It can be overwhelming as a parent,” said Jennifer Loiselle, a frequent visitor to the Kids Closet.
“It’s the give and take that makes the program incredible. My kids wear the clothes for a few months and I wash and return their outgrown clothes.” Jennifer is the President of the Tenney Grammar School PTO. “When I hear of a parent in need, I’m happy to go to bat for them and connect to services they need, and the YMCA is part of that,” she said.
For More Information on My Kids Closet at the Methuen YMCA, reach out to Mary Ellen King at 978-686-6191 ext. 316 or at email@example.com