What exactly is clothing insecurity and how is Cradles to Crayons disrupting this dynamic?
Clothing Insecurity is the lack of access to high-quality, seasonally appropriate, necessary clothing. As a significant, yet quieter, indicator of childhood poverty, Clothing Insecurity impacts over 20 million children in the United States. Without essential, dignified clothing, children face unfair barriers and participate in life on an unequal playing field, preventing them from feeling confident and fully prepared for childhood. Since 2002, Cradles to Crayons has been providing children from birth to age 12, living in low-income or homeless situations, with the essentials they need to thrive at school, at home, and at play. In 2021 we launched Giving Factory Direct – an anytime, anywhere digital platform where anyone can sign up and be matched with a child to send clothing to directly. This year, we began our #EndClothingInsecurity movement to build prominence for this crisis in the larger poverty conversation.
What sparked the idea for Cradles to Crayons? What have been the keys to growing into the company you are today?
I was helping my niece get dressed and saw that she had outgrown clothes that were still in excellent condition. I imagined all the closets full of unused high-quality clothing. At the time, I was in management consulting working with companies to improve their performance, which motivated me to figure out how to redirect viable children’s clothing to meet the need. Our early days were about problem solving. But when I started talking to families and the organizations supporting them, I realized how big this problem was—it stifled self-esteem, kept kids from health appointments, and created tremendous stress for caregivers. I believe in the power of empathy—we are inherently built to take care of each other. I knew I had to find solutions because we all need essentials to thrive, especially clothing.
Throughout my 20s and 30s, I worked 12-hour days building my career in a male-dominated environment. Guided by my values, I was purposeful about elevating women in business, promoting teamwork, and prioritizing balanced living. I’m incredibly proud and humbled by the organization we’ve become and the 3.5 million packages of support we’ve been able to distribute in our twenty years.
What has surprised you most about the impact you’re making in the communities you serve?
I’m always surprised by how many people want to volunteer—if you give people an opportunity to give back, they take it! And their participation sparks conversations and helps raise awareness. Clothing Insecurity is almost never covered in the media yet is a critical issue impacting two in five children daily. The U.N. defines clothing as a human right, but it is unsupported by most government programs. Our impact is both social and tangible—we draw attention to this problem while consistently putting clothes in the closets of children in need.
Donating clothing seems like a small, routine step, but decisions matter! What would you say to encourage moms to think big about the power they hold?
Moms are superheroes in their children’s lives. We are hardwired to love, nurture, and support our children’s growth. It’s not a big leap to harness that incredible energy and empathy on behalf of another family struggling to provide for their children. Donating clothing is a great first step—receiving pants and tops in the right size can ease another mother’s worry and anxiety. And, when you sort through donations with your kids, it causes a ripple effect. You’re teaching your children how to give back to other children—and they’re the experts. In 20 years, I’ve seen kids grow up volunteering at Cradles to Crayons. They start by sorting their own clothing. They volunteer with their families and schools. Some take on leadership roles, leading drives, speaking at events, and continuing to volunteer through college and careers. We are all in this together and can establish a social practice of giving that continues for generations.
We want to help! How can our moms get involved with Cradles to Crayons?
Volunteerism is essential to endling Clothing Insecurity. Moms, and their kids (ages 5 and up), can participate in person at any of our Giving Factories in Boston, Chicago, or Philadelphia sorting and packing essentials for children. It creates tangible change for local kids while making lasting family memories. We also want everyone to sign up for Giving Factory Direct and ship outfits directly to a specific child in need. Every action counts in our efforts to end Clothing Insecurity!
Any big goals or milestones coming up this year?
In recognizing our 20th Anniversary this year, we’ve learned that we need more sustainable solutions to providing children with access to clothing and other basic essentials. We are the largest national nonprofit with Clothing Insecurity as our core mission—but the need is much larger than what any single organization can tackle! We are focusing on increasing visibility for Clothing Insecurity and advocating for policy changes and social safety net support.