Community Provides for Children in Need
by Jennie Fleagle
In December 1998, Art Richards embarked on a mission that would enrich not only his life, but also the lives of thousands of Washington County children. Richards is the founder of the local non-profit organization Children in Need, a charity that provides clothing, school supplies, and personal care items to area kids whose families are unable to afford such necessities.
The inspiration to create Children in Need came to Richards after a pupil personnel worker asked him to aid in raising funds to buy clothes for needy children. They managed to raise a few thousand dollars, but the amount did not come close to meeting the need.
Richards decided to meet with various pupil personnel directors, who were personally visiting various businesses asking for donations, and talk about what could be done to help meet the demand for assistance. Richards heard stories about kids who didn’t go to school because they didn’t have clothes to wear.
He was so affected that he found himself waking up in the middle of the night weeping over the plight of the children. He prayed and sought direction on what to do next. He then proceeded to call some attorneys and CPA’s who helped him get started. Children in Need was founded as a Maryland 501C Non-Profit Organization. It was cleared in a mere three months, a short amount of time for such an application.
Children in Need has been run by volunteers ever since. The Board of Directors consists of approximately 15 people. Every penny donated to the organization goes directly to helping local kids. “I believe in missions around the world,” says Richards, “but missions begin here at home.”
Once Children in Need became known to the school system, kids began to be referred to receive clothing and other supplies. “My ultimate goal was to raise community awareness,” says Richards. He aims to give all kids an equal opportunity to learn and grow.
Richards met one local girl who told him that she only attended school every other day. When he asked her why, she replied that she had to share her clothes with her sister and they only had enough for one of them to wear at a time. Children in Need has proved a blessing for families like this one.
The families in need are given referrals by someone from the school board, a volunteer, or another source. They then can pick up clothes once a month. They may receive up to five outfits in addition to socks and underwear, items that are purchased new from the store with money donated to the organization. Richards reveals that “we’ve been blessed by some people who have given us money” to buy whatever is needed. The identities of the families who are helped is always kept private.
Recipients pick up their items from a warehouse in the Martin Luther King Center near North Street School. Washington County donated the bottom floor of the Center to Children in Need at no expense. The warehouse where the donated clothing is stored is open every Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. for recipients to pick up their items.
Children in Need requires help from the community when it comes to collecting the clothing. Richards says that people come by and donate bags of clothes and he is touched the most when the generosity comes from children.
Paramount Elementary had a clothing drive in which their goal was to collect enough socks to stretch out an entire mile. When Richards went to collect the donations he was met by the sight of many inspiring posters made by the students. “They blessed me so much,” he says. He feels that this drive was a good lesson in teaching the kids to honor others.
While the main request made by Children in Need to the public is for slightly used clothing for school aged kids ages kindergarten through high school, Richards says that school supplies are also needed. “The lists kids get at the beginning of the year are expensive,” says Richards. He urges people to pick up a few extra of certain items, like notebook paper and crayons, when shopping for their own children because the supplies are needed year round, not just in the fall.
Children in Need has given out an estimated 5,000 pads of paper this year in addition to 800 coats last winter, 2,500 pairs of socks, and 1,500 pairs of jeans. Approximately 2,000 kids have been helped in Washington County this year alone.
“This is not India, Saudi Arabia, or Africa,” says Richards. “This is our hometown.” Some children he has met had never had a toothbrush before they were given one by Children in Need. By providing such items, the organization is accomplishing its goal of getting kids in school. Richards stresses that there is a lot of peer pressure for kids today, and “we want them to fit in.”
“If kids want to go to school, I’m going to try to find a way,” he says. “How do I know that one of these kids I help won’t turn out to be a scientist and cure cancer?”
Richards’ determination and generosity is spreading throughout the community. He recently learned that the Optical Department at Sam’s Club will provide eye exams and glasses to 20 elementary school aged children who can’t afford it.
Donations for Children in Need come from all kinds of different sources. “The community is our resource. It’s been a very touching thing and I’m thrilled we’ve been able to help kids,” says Richards.