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New England News

Winter Coats Donated For Homeless School Children

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WAMC
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A national charity that provides babies and pre-teen children living in poverty with essentials including clothing, shoes, toys, and school supplies is expanding into western Massachusetts from its base in the Boston area.

Before the new school year started last fall in Springfield, 6,400 children received backpacks full of school supplies at no cost to their families.  Now, more than 1,000 homeless children in the Springfield schools will get free winter coats.  The donations are the product of a new partnership between the city’s public schools and Cradles to Crayons.

" We want to demonstrate our continued commitment to children in western Mass," said Sharon Reilly, executive director of Cradles to Crayons-Massachusetts,. who said the Cambridge- headquartered organization as a plan to expand services to western Massachusetts during the next three years.

" When we look at poverty is across the Commonwealth, Suffolk ( County) is the largest and then there is Hampden. So, it makes sense for use to be here," she said.

The organization estimates there are 300,000 children under the age of 12 who live in poverty in Massachusetts. This winter, Cradles to Crayons plans to distribute customized clothing packages to about 32,500 children.

Reilly explains that Cradles to Crayons operates in a way similar to a food bank.  The organization accepts cash donations to purchase the clothing and other items that are warehoused and then uses a network of social service agencies and schools to reach the local kids.

"Our model is also based on recycling. About 75 percent of the products we distribute comes from people like me and you cleaning out our closets, " said Reilly. "Because kids grow so fast we are still able to get quality product from families."

More than 1,000 children’s winter coats supplied by Cradles to Crayons were picked up last week by representatives from family homeless shelters and other agencies at the Springfield school department’s Parent and Community Engagement Center.  

" This is Christmas for us today! It really is,"  exclaimed  Pat Spradley, Chief of Parent and Community Engagement for the Springfield schools, who said through the partnership with Cradles to Crayons, over 2,000 coats, hats, and pairs of gloves will be given out by mid-January.

Springfield Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick said children will often stay home from school if their families cannot afford to buy winter clothing.

" We do the best we can as educators to try to provide the right support for our families," said Warwick, who added, " It is agencies like Cradles to Crayons and Sharon and her team who step forward during this season when it is so important to meet the families' needs."

More than 80 percent of Springfield public school students are from families that live below the federal poverty level.

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