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Clothing resource helps Maine families in need get ready for back-to-school

The Kennebunk Cares Closet provides a week's worth of clothes to kids and adults in need.

KENNEBUNK, Maine — A group of four women decided their community needed a closet full of nice quality clothes, free of stains or tears, that were not outdated. That was in 2015 and since then the Kennebunk Cares Closet, located in the basement of a church, has been working to provide a weeks worth of clothing for anyone in need and the work continues to grow. 

The service is run by a group of a dozen volunteers who pick up clothing at drop-off locations, sort, label and size them, and then provide the clothing to anyone who emails them a need at kbunkcarescloset@gmail.com. 

The closet has an impressive three rooms filled with clothing neatly sorted from the ceiling to the floor for infants all the way to adults. Socks, underwear, shoes, ties, belts, and even a limited maternity section line the shelves. Recently they started collecting long skirts and dresses in response to the asylum seekers and refugee population to help with their cultural needs.    

Volunteer Rachel McCarthy says 75% of the closet's clients are children. Parents often forget to ask for clothes for themselves she says.  

When the closet was founded a decision was made to not accept any clothing that was out-of-date, stained or torn - which means they only keep about half of what is donated. The closet operates on the honor system; there is no income requirement. McCarthy says if someone says they have a need, volunteers work to help them. 

The last two weeks in August and the first week of September are the busy back-to-school season for the closet.

"People don't just have a credit card to go to Walmart or Target and get everything their children need," says McCarthey. 

Last year the closet filled 1,400 orders for people in York and Cumberland c counties but the closet is welcome to anyone who can make arrangements to meet a volunteer in the Kennebunk area. 

Most of the people who pick up clothing orders are caseworkers like Kaitlyn Farrington of Sweetzer. She has clients in York County and checks in with them every season to see what they need, especially before school starts. 

"This organization (wants) to make sure everyone has clean nice clothes that they don't feel embarrassed to wear and that they don advertise that they got clothes from someone else for free," says Farrington as she picks up several brown bags.

Mary Bates and her husband have been volunteering at the closet for several years. Bates says the best part of the job is hearing stories that touch her heart. 

"A little girl requested a fancy dress for Easter," Bates says that is not something they normally have on the shelves but on the same day they received a fancy dress that just happened to be the right size. 

"We heard back from the social worker that (the little girl) was thrilled to have the dress..stories like that make the tears come and the heart feeling much better than if you hadn't done something good for somebody," Bates says.

Feeling good and looking your best is what the resource is all about. 

"When you are dressed presentably you feel better about yourself. You are able to be out there in the world and keep your chin up and know that you are a person who has something to offer others in this world," McCarthy says. 

Kennebunk Drop-Off Locations

  • Chamber of Commerce on Water Street 
  • Spurling Fitness on Alewive Park Road
  • The Brick Store Museum on Route 1
  • River Tree Arts in Lower Village