Kids get new clothes for school |

Kids get new clothes for school

by Maggie O'Neill, Appeal staff writer

As Walker and his ChildSpree mentor waited in line at Mervyn’s on Saturday morning, the youngster talked to his older brother, Walter, age 6, about a 5-pack of racecars. Sold as part of a T-shirt combo, the racecars were obviously a sweet deal both to Walker who had been shy at first, and his mentor, Wes Kikuchi, who was beaming proudly at having found something special.

“We have another 15 bucks to go,” Kikuchi said, turning 5-year-old Walker from the register. “Maybe we’ll double up or find something special.”

Walker had pajamas, an athletic outfit, two tops with racecar sets over the hangers, a shirt with a truck, and white Velcro Nikes in his pile, as the two headed out for more.

Walker will be starting kindergarten this fall. He was one of 60 children treated to a ChildSpree at the store. Meryvn’s, the Kiwanis and the Salvation Army each made donations which totaled $6,000, and allowed each child $100. Doors opened at 7 a.m. for the shoppers and their mentors, who helped the children make choices based on sizes and needs.

Vi Bibee, a Salvation Army social worker, said she would like to be able to help close to 120 kids each year, twice as many as they did.

Kids shopped with their mentors, volunteers, but sans parents.

“The children that are selected are the children who might not get new clothes to start school,” she said. “And children want to look like other children. Without their parents, they can be as funky as they want.”

Like Mikayla who picked out a pair of sandals with a red, white and blue pattern on the insoles. Mikayla, who will be attending Empire Elementary School, chatted it up in line with a just-discovered future school mate, Jessica. But after Mikayla’s mentor, Laurie Ferrin, discovered they had $8 more to spend, the pair went back to look for a dress the tired 5-year-old said she needed.

“I had to check on all that stuff and it took so long,” Mikayla said. “It was really early when I got up.”

Many of the ChildSpree children come from homes where money is not available for clothes. But Bibee said she sees many of the families throughout the year and finds out how much the clothes are appreciated.

“The parents come up and hug me so I know everything has gone over well,” she said.

While Bibee finds the children, Mervyn’s provides the location. In its 10th year of sponsoring ChildSpree, the department store gives each child a backpack full of school supplies and brings its employees in at 6 a.m. for the event.

“They make sure socks, underwear, and basic jeans are pushed out to the floor, and the back-to-school items are filled in,” said store manager Laura Wiggins.

“It’s always a success,” she said. “It’s always a lot of fun. Seeing the kids come in and shop for themselves and see them picking out what they want and not just getting what they get is kind of heart-warming. It gives them a little bit of independence.”

But Jose, 8, a student at Mark Twain Elementary School, had come in the day before and knew exactly what to get. He had a pair of jeans, five different colored T-shirts, and blue sweatpants and a sweatshirt. His mentor, Sharon Powers, said the shopping went well and that she would absolutely participate again.

“I think this is a great thing,” she said.