Yuliana Flores-Montez clearly remembers the impact that Clothes for Kids had on her life 20 years ago.
“They literally turned on the switch of happiness,” said Flores-Montez, speaking to hundreds gathered in the Lynnwood Convention Center Thursday morning for the 7th annual Clothes for Kids Transforming Lives breakfast.
Following her parents’ divorce two decades ago, a 12-year-old Flores-Montez moved to the Seattle area from California with her mother and six siblings. The children brought very little with them — a few clothing items stuffed into their backpacks — mostly shorts and T-shirts from a warmer climate. Flores-Montez’s mother worked three jobs, which barely covered the rent on their one-bedroom apartment — a far cry from the five-bedroom home they left behind. The children were instructed to eat at school, in case food wasn’t in the budget that day.
New clothes were out of the question, including warm coats. The children stood in the cold each morning while they waited for the school bus. A teacher at Flores-Montez’s school regularly asked the children about their coats and the standard answer was, they were forgotten at home.
One day, that teacher pressed a piece of paper into Flores-Montez’s hand, with information about Clothes for Kids, which for 32 years has been supplying free school wardrobes to students in financial need. While her mother was skeptical that anything was really free, finally she relented — bringing the entire family on the bus to the Clothes for Kids store in Lynnwood, Flores-Montez recalled.
The children were given bags and told to fill them with what they needed — including coats, shoes, underwear and socks. “We couldn’t believe it,” Flores-Montez said. The next day, at the bus stop, the children stood proudly in their new clothing, and even struck up conversations with other kids — something they had never done before.
Flores-Montez, who now works at the Everett Clinic, had forgotten about Clothes for Kids until she enrolled in the Leadership Snohomish County program’s 2016 class. Part of the program includes working on projects for selected organizations. As she was reviewing the options, she saw the Clothes for Kids logo and tears began welling in her eyes, recalling how it helped her family 20 years ago.
“They gave us hope,” she said.
Through Leadership Snohomish County, Montes-Florez and others on her project team made this video about her experiences:
“This place changes lives. It transforms lives,” Flores-Montez concluded.
Also speaking during the breakfast was RJ Coop, who emceed the event. Coop moved from Compton, Calif. to Washington state when he was 9 years old, homeless and illiterate. He was adopted at age 13, but not before spending time in 25-plus foster care homes and attending numerous schools. Coop, who earned both college athletic and academic scholarships and graduated with honors, ended up at Microsoft in the HR/staffing field.
Coop described the role that clothing plays in helping children feel confident. “Clothing is your identity,” he said. “We just want to fit in. We just want to belong.”
In addition, the Clothes for Kids organization recognized the My Neighborhood News Network (My Edmonds News, MLTnews and Lynnwood Today) with its community partner award, citing the organization’s role in providing pro bono promotion and publicity for the organization’s fundraising events during the last several years.
While Clothes for Kids accepts donations of new and gently-used clothing, cash contributions allow the organization to purchase new clothing and shoes for children in need in Snohomish County. The organization also needs volunteers to assist with a variety of tasks year-round.
You can donate, volunteer or learn more about Clothes for Kids here.