Kids are told not to judge a book by its cover, and that it’s what on the inside that counts.
That may be true, but it turns out that stylish clothes actually serve a purpose: when kids feel like they fit in at school, they can better concentrate on learning.
That’s one of the goals behind Threads & Treads, a free clothing shop open to families of Northshore School District students. Recipients don’t have to demonstrate need or be referred. Eileen Jowell, the community schools coordinator for NSD, said the district has done surveys that show that students who’ve received clothes from Threads & Treads can concentrate more on school when they have clothes that make them feel comfortable and stylish.
Threads & Treads, located at Canyon Park Junior High School, provides three outfits and one pair of shoes per month to every family member, and Jowell is generous in her definition of an outfit. It can be more than a shirt and pants, she said. Layers are fine; unusual items such as pajamas and prom dresses are considered "extras."
"We want them to have a full outfit they’re going to wear," she said.
The clothes come from donations, and the store is run by a staff of about 40 volunteers, which includes Northshore students, parents and community members, as well as students from Cascadia Community College taking service learning classes. Jowell strives to stock the store with clean, high-quality clothes that aren’t too outdated or worn out.
And don’t expect to find sweatpants with provocative sayings written on the butt.
"We want stuff that follows the school dress codes," explained Srishti Mathur, a Bothell High School junior who volunteers at Threads & Treads. "Anything that would work for a Washingtonian — like, we don’t really wear tank tops. We want stuff that people are going to be comfortable wearing around school, to the grocery store."
The store also offers adult clothes, so parents of Northshore students can shop for clothes for job interviews or work, and clothes for school activities like sports and music groups.
"I would hate for any family to go out and buy the one skirt they need for the band concert," Jowell said. "Maybe that skirt is here."
The volunteers donate items that can’t be used at Threads & Treads to the Northwest Center, which pays Threads & Treads $0.04 per pound of clothes. Jowell uses that money to buy new socks and underwear to give out, as well as shelves, pens and other supplies to use in the store.
Three school counselors from Kenmore Junior High School started Threads & Treads, Jowell explained.
"In 2009, we laid off a bunch of people from the district, the economy was tanking and middle class families found themselves qualifying for services," Jowell said.
When families can get clothes for free from Threads & Treads, it lets them spend their money on food, school supplies and other necessities, Jowell said. It also gives the families a chance to get more involved in the school district by finding out more about open houses, sports programs and other school events. Some beneficiaries of the program even become donors or volunteers.
"A lot of the people who’ve shopped actually come back to volunteer, and they donate whatever they can, if they’ve outgrown it," explained Donna Ribary, who’s volunteered at Threads & Treads for three years.
Mathur began volunteering at the start of this school year. She likes the way younger kids look up to her, and she enjoys assembling outfits, but most importantly, she can give back to the community in a direct and meaningful way.
"I have a chance to interact with people and help them get what they need, whereas if you’re standing outside Safeway collecting cans, it’s not as interactive," she said.