Kids' tennis shoes in all colors and sizes, racks of coats and shirts, shelves lined in blue jeans — to kids who have been wearing the same outfit each day, this is a candy store.
The Children's Service League in Fort Smith provides clothes and hygiene items to kids who are referred by the schools — usually after a teacher or other staff member notices they are wearing the same clothes, dirty clothes or clothes that don't fit or that they do not have a coat. President Kimberly Swaim remembered one fourth-grader who was wearing a grown man's clothes to school because he had nothing else.
"We take all the donations we can get our hands on," Swaim said.
The organization is always accepting donated school-appropriate clothes or money because the league purchases some items such as socks, shoes, underwear, hygiene products or clothes. Young adult clothing is sometimes acceptable because high school students are sometimes referred to the Children's Service League.
When a child is referred to the Children's Service League, a volunteer, with a parent's permission, will pick the child up from school and take him or her to the Parker Center, where the child may pick out three pairs of jeans, five long-sleeve shirts, five short-sleeve shirts, one heavy coat, one light jacket, five pairs of underwear, five pairs of socks, one pair of shoes and one hygiene kit containing shampoo, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste.
For some kids, a trip to the Children's Service League is their first time to pick out clothes they like.
"They haven't been able to make a choice before," Swaim said. "They've been given clothes."
Sheri Fuhrman is the counselor/media secretary at Kimmons Junior High. Fuhrman has referred 25 students to the Children's Service League this year. She said that with many students from low-income families, the need is great. Although parents cannot request help from the organization, they are generally incredibly grateful.
The reasons kids need clothes range from unexpected events like losing everything in a fire to moving around because of evictions or parents' incarceration to just not enough money. One student told Swaim about being awakened in the middle of the night and taken to their grandparents' without their belongings because the rent had not been paid.
"Unfortunately, there are just a whole of families who just cannot adequately provide for their children," Swaim said.
The organization is not under Fort Smith Public Schools' umbrella, although the district allows it to be housed within the Parker Center and work with school counselors. Students in Kindergarten through 12th-grade in Fort Smith, regardless of whether they go to Fort Smith Public Schools, may be eligible for clothes. The organization typically serves between 400 and 500 kids a year, Swaim said.