WENATCHEE — Mikael Gavin wore her special “Where’s Waldo” shirt — eye-popping red-and-white horizontal stripes — so she could be spotted half a block away in a crowd of hundreds.
It worked. A mother with two kids dashed up, breathless, and asked, “Where can we get socks?” Another queried. “When’s face-painting start?” And a busy volunteer swerved to deliver a quick compliment, “Good job!”
Gavin was chief organizer of the 12th Annual Back to School Clothing Giveaway hosted here Saturday at Saddlerock Evangelical Presbyterian Church by Serve Wenatchee Valley. She fielded scores of questions from parents and volunteers as she wandered Waldo-style through the bustling throng of nearly 1,000 people — all there for free clothes, shoes and haircuts to get kids ready for school.
“Bad economy, good economy — the need never goes away,” said Gavin. “Thankfully, our community is blessed with individuals and businesses that see this need and offer their help — cash, donations, big discounts on expensive items. It’s wonderful.”
For instance, she said, the Children’s Place at Wenatchee Valley Mall provided 800 pairs of discounted jeans and Stan’s Merry Mart delivered 900 pairs of discounted shoes. Dozens of other businesses donated cash and items. Students and teachers from The Beauty Academy donated haircuts for the asking. Upwards of 50 volunteers kept the stacks and bins of clothes folded and stacked through the four-hour event.
The line for free clothes and ’cuts began forming at 10 p.m. Friday night, said Bob Shepard, executive director of Serve Wenatchee Valley, a service and event organization for local churches.
“Every year, families get pretty excited about this event,” said Shepard. “But the truth is there’s plenty to go around for everybody. This is one giveaway where there’s no feeding frenzy. We’ve never turned anyone away.”
Just in case, volunteers had vouchers for those who couldn’t find a pair of jeans or shoes to fit. Kids could redeem the vouchers in-store where selection is more varied.
Over in the “hosiery” department (mostly athletic socks), veteran sock presenter Larry Howe, Wenatchee, was paired with rookie sock man Steve Sanders, East Wenatchee. “I’m new to this game,” said Sanders, standing in front of three big boxes filled with socks — small, medium and large. “So last night I got the grunt work and had to sort out all these things.” He laughed. “But that’s OK. It’s for a good cause.”
Liliana Cardenas, Wenatchee, had been in line since 6 a.m. with seven young family members to make sure they got T-shirts and tops, jeans, shoes and haircuts for the boys. “Luckily, the weather’s been great,” said Cardenas, “so we could stand here and catch up on news and swap stories.”
Erika Gardiner and her daughter Christa, 7, of Wenatchee, were also in line at 6 a.m. “We’ve been here before and always make sure we find shoes, pants and shirts — a complete outfit for school,” she said.
“And we make sure we say hello and thanks to the organizers,” added Gardiner. “They work hard to make sure kids have nice clothes, and I think we all really, really appreciate it.”