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Beaver Dam organization meets kids’ needs for 30 years

August 21, 2018
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Jodi Slowiak, executive director of Clothes for Kids, gazes upon a picture of her mother, Carolyn Walsch, who started the Beaver Dam nonprofit organization 30 years ago. Walsch passed away in 2016 and Slowiak said she tried to live out the words of Mother Teresa: "Start with one; the rest will follow."

When Jodi Slowiak makes a list of needed school supplies, it differs from most others — 2,000 pairs of shoes, 1,500 backpacks, 15,000 pencils, 10,000 folders, 8,000 notebooks, 5,000 glue sticks, 4,000 erasers and much more.

Slowiak, executive director of the Beaver Dam-based nonprofit Clothes for Kids, said the organization’s Back-to-School program is currently in full swing.

“We provide school-age kids with what they need to start back,” she said. “August is busy; we help more than 1,000 families who are struggling to get prepared for the new school year.”

The Back-to-School program was created five years ago to help families who are members of the Clothes for Kids clothing exchange program. Children from kindergartners to high schoolers receive free school supplies, backpacks, new shoes and clothing to start the school year.

Current members must be in good standing with the exchange program to receive new items through the Back-to-School program. New participants are welcome to sign up to use the program all year round. Distribution of the supplies continues on Tuesday and Aug. 28.

Clothes for Kids is dedicated to helping any family who is in financial distress and in need of assistance.

“Our efforts are focused on moderate level, low-income and foster families,” Slowiak said. “We can only do what we do because of this generous community. We have a $60,000 annual budget — that’s crazy — and it all started around my mom’s kitchen table.”

The late Carolyn Walsch, Slowiak’s mother, founded the non-denominational, non-partisan organization back in 1988. When Slowiak became involved with Clothes for Kids, she asked her mom to write down the history of the organization in her own words.

“I am not sure what I thought I would ever use it for. …. Maybe I just wanted to know why she gave up so much for this cause,” she said.

Walsch wrote, “I needed to be open to the plan God had for me. I just needed to listen and to follow. Quietly, in my heart, I sorted out my talents. I loved children, especially babies. Having raised seven children, I certainly had experience!”

Walsch decided to help one child at a time and started to make layettes in her home.

“Soon, I was making layettes for all our area hospitals. I asked friends in for coffee and invited them to pick a baby and make a layette,” wrote Walsch, who died in 2016. “Each layette contained a card with my name and number for further assistance and the calls rolled in — ‘I need a crib’ … ’My baby has out-grown her layette’ … ‘Do you have some diapers?’”

Clothes for Kids grew from there. It moved from Walsch’s farmhouse in 1995 to a location in Beaver Dam. Walsch’s vision of providing clothing for children without cost became a reality.

Thirty years since its inception, the organization is community-based and is still run strictly by volunteers. No state or federal funding is accepted. It has been located at 1019 S. Spring Street, Beaver Dam, since 2014.

“We’re are now a community exchange program for families in need,” Slowiak said. “Clean, usable clothing is donated and then sorted by volunteers and displayed for families to shop for their children just as though they were shopping at a department store, but without the price tags.”

She stated that more than 11,000 volunteer hours were tallied last year by a very dedicated group of individuals.

“I’m proud to say no one who works here is paid. And no one wishes to be,” she said. “We can truly say 100 percent of what is donated goes to help the children in our area.”

Individuals, groups, churches and service clubs assist them in their work. Fundraisers provide more than 40 percent of the money needed by the organization, with donations, grants and memorials making up the rest.

“This couldn’t happen anywhere,” Slowiak said. “We are blessed to live in a place where people really care about each other.”

In addition to school supplies, Clothes for Kids provides year-round items for those in need, such as clothing for infants through high school students, new shoes, shampoo/soap, toothbrushes/toothpaste, deodorant, bedding, socks, underwear, coats, snowpants, boots, baby items, diapers, car seats, toys and more.

The Clothes for Kids Facebook page has a host of information for those who wish to utilize the organization’s services. Click on the “about” section for more information about programs, service area, what to bring and membership guidelines.

“There are lots and lots of people in the community responsible for helping so many kids in the last 30 years when they needed it most,” Slowiak said. “Hearing their stories makes us grateful for what we have.

“Mom will always be the heart of Clothes for Kids. Her dedicated family of volunteers are committed to keeping her legacy alive forever. We feel her presence in everything we do.”

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