I have been a professional organizer for 11 years now, and sometime in the last 5 years, I started taking clients’ unwanted kids’ clothes and toys to a non-profit called Northwest Children’s Outreach. This charity collects items such as toys, clothes, baby strollers, formula, diapers, books and shoes for kids ages infant to 18 and distributes them to children in need, including kids in foster care throughout the Portland Metro/SW Washington area.
Last week, my husband Chad and I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Vancouver location of NW Children’s Outreach. Volunteers are welcome on a drop-in basis (no need to sign up or register beforehand) on Tuesday nights from 6-8 p.m. A lovely woman greeted us at the door and enthusiastically gave us a tour of their space, showing us where the donated goods come in, how they get sorted onto shelves, and how volunteer packers select goods from the shelves for each child in need.
Then we were put to work. I stood at the table pictured above, along with a dozen or so other volunteers ranging in age from about 7 years old to elderly. A stack of black plastic garbage bags in front of me had the name of each child in need typed out on a sticky label. For privacy reasons, the label did not name the child, but it told me what gender he or she was, along with his or her clothing and shoe size. A laminated list told me what kinds of things to pack in each black garbage bag. So I walked up and down the rows of carefully labeled bins, pulling things for a 5-year-old boy from the list, such as 2 pairs of shoes, 4 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, 2 stuffed animals, 2-4 books, 1-2 toys and more. It was really moving to put together a bag for a child, and I put a lot of thought into which books I would choose for him, and finding gloves to match his hat, along with all of the action figures in the Incredibles set. I wanted this boy to find some measure of comfort in this bag I was preparing for him.
I stopped short when I came to the boys’ pajama bin.
“There are no pajamas in the boys’ pajama bin,” I informed Lynn, one of the program coordinators, “What should I do?”
“Then the boy doesn’t get pajamas,” she said. She must have seen the look of concern on my face because she quickly added, “Don’t worry. His social worker can put in another order for clothes for him next week, if he doesn’t get everything he needs this week. The social workers can put in as many orders as they want to make sure kids get what they need.”
I felt a little bit better knowing that, but couldn’t stop thinking about how it would be another week in January before this little 5-year-old boy had any pajamas. Some of the other bins were empty towards the end of the volunteer shift, meaning that some kids didn’t receive the shoes, winter hats, or pants they needed. Knowing that, I felt even more inspired to send as many of my organizing clients’ donations here as possible.
On the drive home after our volunteer shift, I asked Chad what they had him work on. “I unloaded the bins of donations in the donation room, and started loading up the finished packed bags for the kids,” he said. He added softly, “I had no idea there were so many kids in need.”
It was really a heart-changing encounter for us. And it’s definitely an experience we want to repeat again. We already made plans to try to volunteer there at least a couple of times a month. Volunteers are really crucial to the kids getting what they need.
If you are interested in finding out more about Northwest Children’s Outreach, you can visit their website here. And if you want to take your family and volunteer with them some evening, you can find out more about that here. Maybe it will be a heart-changing experience for your family too.
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