It’s not always easy to tell when a child is in need. You can’t always tell when a child is hungry or if they’re being mistreated. For many elementary school students in Sussex County, one need is more obvious — they lack the proper clothes to attend school five days a week. Clothing Our Kids, a not-for-profit organization headquartered near Millsboro, is working to assist students in need.
Mary Rio founded the organization in 2012. “My husband was an assistant principal of an elementary school and said we needed to buy clothes for this child. She came into school on a Monday and threw up all over her outfit, and on Tuesday and Wednesday she had to come to school with this mess on her outfit. The teacher sent her to the nurse to call home to get more clothes. The girl broke down in tears because she didn’t have any other clothes to wear,” said Rio.
After hearing her husband’s heart-wrenching story, Rio issued a call to neighbors for help. She collected new and used clothes, providing the girl with several new outfits. The story shocked Rio and she started reaching out to other schools to see if there were other students who needed help. The need was greater than she imagined and Rio founded Clothing Our Kids, working out of her own home.
According to Rio, “In the past few years, you just can’t imagine how this has sprung up. I always try to say I planted the seed and this little twig came up the first two years. But in the past three years, this little twig grew into a giant tree and it’s all because of our volunteers and so many people in the community who are backing us. It’s all the community.”
Clothing Our Kids distributed 17,000 pieces of clothing to students in Sussex County over the last year and now boasts an army of 150 volunteers, caring individuals who strongly believe in the organization’s mission. “I don’t know of any other human being who would turn her house into what she turned her house into. When you hear the stories, the little kid dropped off at school wearing only her grandma’s sweater and a belt, how can you not want to help the community?” said volunteer Karen Borges.
Providing children with proper clothes boosts their confidence, reduces the possibility of bullying and increases the probability of regular attendance. Volunteers work directly with local school nurses and guidance counselors to identify students in need. They then gather the appropriate clothing and deliver it to the respective schools. Students are given a package with enough clothes to wear for at least five days, enough to get them through the school-week. Clothing Our Kids also provides clothes to children impacted by house fires, flooding or kids who’ve been removed from a home by the Division of Family Services.
For Rio and her volunteers, the stories of children in need provide them with the incentive to keep working so hard. “There were twins in a class. Someone saw one of the twins on the playground and asked why her sister wasn’t there. The girl said it was her day to wear the coat and the shoes. So the children were not going to school because they had to share a pair of shoes,” said Rio.
Volunteers said knowing they are making a difference is the best feeling in the world. According to Kathleen Blouin, “You just don’t see it until you get involved, and to me it’s about helping these kids become successful adults by not being bullied, by wanting to go to school because they have new clothes and want to show
To learn more about the organization or to donate or volunteer for Clothing Our Kids, please visit,