For Shawnee Mission families in need, SMAC Clothing Exchange provides vital resource

Meredith Shobe sorts socks and underwear at the SMAC
Meredith Shobe sorts socks and underwear at the SMAC Clothing Exchange.

For decades, the Shawnee Mission School District area had a reputation as one of the most affluent pockets of Kansas City. But over the past 10 years, Johnson County has seen poverty on the rise. Since 2000, the number of residents living below the federal poverty line in Johnson County has doubled. United Community Services estimates that 33,000 residents currently live in poverty here.

And as that poverty level has risen, so has need — and the Shawnee Mission Area Council PTA’s Clothing Exchange has stepped up to help meet some of the demand.

With donations of gently used items from district patrons and beyond, volunteers at the Exchange opens a “store” at the Indian Creek Technology Center each Monday during the school year where families can select clothing items for their children free of charge. It’s an important resource for not only for families who find themselves financially challenged, but for those who have been struck by disaster like a fire and for parents and guardians who gain custody of children with little notice.

“Kids learn best when they feel safe, and when they are warm, and when they are fed,” said Marilyn Shobe, one of the program’s four chairs. “If you’ve ever seen a child walk to school in February without a coat, it’s just heartbreaking.”

And, unfortunately, coats don’t have a long shelf life with elementary students.

“Coats are hard to come by and kids grow out of them during the summer,” said chair Jill Molina.

The program relies on the generosity of district patrons for donations — with many students pitching in. Students from Corinth Elementary’s Youth in Action program, for example, recently put together a clothing drive for the Exchange and went door-to-door collecting items. And the program’s leaders are constantly soliciting contributions.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people at garage sales about, ‘Hey, what are you going to do with these when you’re done?'” said Sarah Baker, a program chair. “Because I know a great place to donate them.”

To gain access to the Exchange, shoppers need to provide proof of residency in the Shawnee Mission area. Each Shawnee Mission student is entitled to five new pairs of socks and five new pairs of underwear through the program — and Exchange volunteers are always looking for donations of those items.

For more information about how to donate to or volunteer for the program, check out their website here.