Cradles to Crayons: Getting Essentials to Homeless and Low-income Children

Liam Cunningham
Spare Change News

It all began during a typical holiday trip to Michigan, where Lynn Margherio travels nearly every winter to visit her family.

During the trip, Margherio was struck with an eye-opening realization while helping her young niece get dressed.

“I was helping my niece get dressed and was pulling things from her drawer and closet. I saw clothes that still had their tags on them and were already too small for her. She was never going to wear them. I didn’t have any sort of theory formed at the time, but that is what really started to open my eyes,” said Margherio, now the founder and CEO of Boston-based Cradles to Crayons.

Margherio has over 20 years of experience in a number of fields including business consulting, public policy, and for the past decade, the nonprofit sector. She also served as the executive vice president of the William Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS initiative. It was that trip home to Michigan that steered her career in the nonprofit direction.

“Throughout that visit I saw how, in my niece and nephew’s play areas, there were tons of toys everywhere, but they would gravitate towards just a few of them,” Margherio said. “There were beautiful new trucks, cars, dolls and other great toys that they had either outgrown or never played with, and I just thought about how wonderful it would be if these were in the hands of another boy or girl.”

The seed had been planted in Lynn’s head, and it steadily grew from that point. She recognized that there was a supply in the larger community, and that kid’s toys, clothes, books, and puzzles often had a much longer usable life than what they were typically seeing.

“I recognized there was a possibility of aggregating the supply from wealthier communities,” Margherio explained. “I certainly knew that in my own community there were many children living in families who were struggling to put food on the table, pay their rent, their utility bills, etc.”

Growth and Development

Since Margherio first hatched this idea over a decade ago, Cradles to Crayons has grown to become an extremely successful organization in both the greater Boston and Philadelphia communities.

Officially founded in 2002, C2C operates according to the following mission statement: “Cradles to Crayons endeavors to provide homeless and low-income children with the essentials they require to thrive — to feel safe, warm, ready to learn, and valued.”

C2C fulfills this mission by collecting new and like-new items through widespread community drives, along with generous donations from the community at large. The organizing and sorting of these goods is done almost entirely by volunteers at the C2C “Giving Factory,” located at 155 North Beacon Street in Brighton. Once sorted according to type, age, and gender, the goods are delivered to disadvantaged children throughout Massachusetts through an extensive network of social service agencies and school partners.

Since C2C’s inception, Margherio and the staff have relied heavily on the work of family, friends, and volunteers to get the organization to where it is today. In its early years, C2C operated out of donated office space that was small and cramped. The organization has come a long way since then.

“Cradles to Crayons started as my own idea. Ten years later, we have made so much progress. In 2011 more than 25,000 children and adults have volunteered their time to help us inspect and package clothing, books, toys, and other items based on the needs of individual boys and girls. Over the past ten years, tens of thousands of other individuals have helped by cleaning out their closets, holding drives, spreading the word about our mission and more importantly, about how people can get involved,” Margherio said.

The Cradles to Crayons mission spread to Philadelphia in 2006 when Jennifer Case brought the Cradles to Crayons model to her community as a way to address the thousands of needy children in her community. While Philadelphia’s operation is significantly smaller than Boston’s, it too continues to expand its influence.

“What was once just an idea has become a mission for tens of thousands of people across the Greater Boston and Philadelphia communities,” Margherio said.

Project 351

Last year marked the first implementation of Governor Deval Patrick’s Project 351, a yearly one-day event which, according to the initiative’s website, is intended to revolve around the “ethics of service, youth leadership, and the power of community to uplift and unite.” These values correlate directly to those of Cradles to Crayons, and with the impact the organization has had in the community since its beginnings, it was no surprise when Governor Patrick selected C2C’s Giving Factory facility in Brighton to be one of the volunteer sites for Project 351.

On January 14, nearly 200 8th grade students reported to the Giving Factory for a day of service. Volunteers wore shirts adorned with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reading: “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” According to Governor Patrick, honorary chair of the event, Project 351 is in part designed to honor Dr. King.

“Project 351 is designed to inspire, challenge and motivate our next generation of leaders to give back and make a significant impact in the community … and I look forward to joining this year’s youth ambassadors on Jan. 14th to give back and honor the legacy of Dr. King,” said Patrick in a quote listed on Project 351’s public web page.

The event is important for C2C. The participation of such a large group of volunteers benefits thousands of children in the region, and also emphasizes the ability and potential for the Giving Factory warehouse to foster change and growth in the greater community. On the 14th, Governor Patrick stopped by the Giving Factory to speak to and interact with the 8th grade volunteer crew and the C2C staff. The day was highly successful for everyone involved and reinforced the growing impact C2C is having in the Greater Boston community.

C2C’s Short and Long Term Goals

Each year as the harsh New England winter season begins to set in, there is a significantly increased number of requests coming to C2C. Demand levels are expected to grow each winter. “Around this time of year it obviously gets cold and it’s the season when children and families need help the most. We hope that people make a New Year’s resolution to reach out to the community and help their less fortunate neighbors.”

Lynn anticipates that this winter season will be perhaps their busiest yet and there are certain goods that there is an urgent need for (see sidebar box). To address these needs, C2C is in the midst of their annual Gear Up for Winter campaign, which “aims to collect and distribute cold weather essentials like coats, boots, pants, hats, and gloves to disadvantaged children.” This winter, the C2C staff anticipates around 15,000 requests for coats and other cold weather clothing. The main focus for the organization at this time of the year is fulfilling those requests to keep children safe and warm.

Currently underway, along with the Gear up for Winter campaign, is C2C’s 5th Annual Pajama Drive, which is run in conjunction with the Boston Bruins. Pajamas are in high demand each winter, and the Pajama Drive aims to generate thousands of pairs. Last year’s drive, through the participation of 44 organizations, 9,000 pairs of pajamas were collected. The goal for this year’s drive is 15,000 pairs.

C2C partners with the Bruins and looks to get schools, libraries, churches and other organizations involved with the PJ Drive. It can be a fun activity for schools to organize and partake in during the winter season. To learn more about the Pajama Drive and how your organization can get involved, contact C2C’s community outreach team.

Margherio also has some long-term goals for the organization that she hopes to turn from objective to reality in the coming years.

“In terms of longer-term goals, we know that there are more than 300,000 children up to the age of 12 who are living in low-income and homeless families, who struggle every day for their most basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. We want to do everything we can to serve more of these children,” Margherio said. “With the vast resources available in homes across the Commonwealth, we believe it’s possible to at least double our reach.”

Getting Involved

C2C relies largely on the generosity, energy and enthusiasm of volunteers to meet the needs of thousands of underprivileged children. There are innumerable ways to get involved with the organization, and even the smallest donations can be a huge deal for a struggling child.

“There are so many ways people can get involved with Cradles to Crayons. As a first step, look in your closets and play rooms for ‘like new’ children’s clothing, footwear, books and baby gear that your children no longer use and donate them to us. You can volunteer at our Giving Factory warehouse, on your own or with a group. And spread the word. Let your family, friends, and colleagues know that there are kids out there who could use their help. Invite them to join you in service,” Margherio said.

Much Needed Items- Winter 2011/12
– Boys Coats: Size 0-5/6
– Girls Coats: Up to 7/8
-18/24 month old clothing – Boys clothes 5/6-18/20
– Girls tops (2T-7/8 especially)
– Boys and girls gloves, hats (Not size 5-6)
-Pajamas

To learn more about C2C and find out how you can get involved, visit its website at
http://cradlestocrayons.org/.

LIAM CUNNINGHAM writes for Spare Change News and works on community outreach for Cradles to Crayons.

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