By Alyssa Penman
(Oak Hills)–It doesn’t snow often in Riverside, CA, so when the Sislo family moved from Riverside to Oak Hills last year, their five year old son’s wardrobe didn’t include snow clothes. Fortunately, his mother Cheryl found Kid 2 Kid Closet, a group of clothes-swapping families. There, she was able to trade clothes her son had outgrown for the warm winter gear he needed in the High Desert.
Friends Jillian Ford and Deborah Torres had long swapped clothes for the seven growing sons they had between them. After setting up a Yahoo Group in April 2008, the practice spread and now includes two monthly swaps over 230 families with an average of 35 families at each event, most with three to six children.
On Saturday, December 11 the Kid 2 Kid Closet group tackled another big cost for families: toys for Christmas. On a quiet street in a newer subdivision, kids played on the front lawn and families waited their turn to browse through hundreds of gently used toys. Although there is little room left in her garage with the regular clothing swap totes, “Christmas is worth it!” Ford shared.
As the recession heads into its fourth year, the pinch has hit most families. Christie Martin’s six children understand that times are difficult. For this Adelanto family, the toy swap means having toys to open on Christmas morning.
Martin was told about the swap a few months ago and she already feels the clothes-swap program has made a big financial impact. “We can pay a bill or get gas in the car instead of figuring out how to pay for clothes.”
Her two oldest children volunteered to help set up the event, a recurring theme throughout the day. It isn’t just about the toys, Martin said. “You meet new people, make new friends. It is bringing the community together.”
Those friendships drew Kim Efting and her two daughters back up the hill from San Jacinto just to volunteer for the Toy Swap. A member of the group from the beginning, Efting and her family relocated for work two months ago from Victorville. “Everybody is working together to help one another,” she said. “Even though my husband is working, it is a struggle. But we are thankful and blessed.”
Helping to pace the flow of families through Ford’s garage, volunteer Lydia Morales understands the importance of the community connection. After a traumatic loss, Morales credited Kid 2 Kid Closet with giving her a reason to get outside her house. “I get to talk to other moms. Its not just clothes, it is support.” Focusing on the activity of the clothes takes the pressure off parents who are overwhelmed. “You can feel normal,” Morales said. “Then you can let your guard down. You can share war stories, laugh and joke.”
Indeed, the tone at the toy swap Saturday was one of happy activity. Inside the garage, volunteers wrapped toys in colorful Christmas paper while dads watched their kids play in the front yard. Everyone enjoyed cookies brought by participants and groups of moms caught up with each other. Participants, from the first-timer to original members had the same thing to say about the group: They are thankful for the toys and the clothing, but they are blessed by the community they have found.
Recommendations on daycare, parks and more are easy to come by and whenever someone has need, everyone responds. Ford shared the story of a family without money to buy underwear for their kids. Four other families offered to buy the needed garments.
In another case, the tragic death of a new mother meant the grandmother suddenly had a new baby to take care of. Between new and used items, the Kid 2 Kid Closet families gathered nearly all the supplies she needed for the first year of her granddaughter’s life.
This kind of community is formed out of a positive response to adversity. Ford and Torres are amazed at how it continues to grow. The first unofficial spin-off launched a few months ago when two moms with kids who had outgrown the 9/10 size limit started Swapping Mamas. Geared toward older kids, teens and adults, the principles are the same: bring in what you don’t need and take what you do need. Like Kid 2 Kid Closet, they use Yahoo Groups and a Facebook Page to connect with members.
One of those Swapping Mamas, Lisa Anderson, hopes to see it grow and benefit the community in the same manner as Kid 2 Kid Closet. “I’ve seen so many families helped,” she said. “I’m so thankful I’m able to provide for people out of my garage.”
Families who are interested in participating in Kid 2 Kid Closet can join the Yahoo Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Kid2Kidcloset or like their page on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/KID2KIDCLOSET/333333711551. To RSVP and get location details, families can also contact the organizers via email: Jillian Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Deb Torres (email@example.com).
Ford and Torres hope to make the toy swap an annual event, but will return to regular clothing swaps in January. Clothes are available in sizes 0 months to children’s 9/10. Families are encouraged to bring clothing they no longer need and can take what they do need for free. However, no one is turned away because they do not have clothing to contribute.