CINCINNATI, OH | September 2, 2019
There is nothing as heartwarming as the smile of a child. It can brighten even the darkest of days, cheer up the grumpiest people. At least, that is what my mother always says. And I have found myself agreeing with her on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately, there are many unhappy children that live within our communities, hiding their misery, their struggles, behind fake smiles, emaciated faces, tattered and old clothing.
In my hometown of Cincinnati, the child poverty rate, now considered one of the highest in the nation, has been on the rise. Nearly half of Cincinnati’s children live below the federal poverty line. This means that over 80,000 children may go hungry, while more than 16,000 infants and toddlers do not have enough diapers.
With so much need comes the presence of many organizations with missions to address each necessity: food, clothing, jobs, shelter.
This summer, I worked with Give Like a Mother, a nonprofit that provides clothing to children free of cost. Give Like a Mother partners with 19 local schools to identify and reach children whose families cannot afford to buy clothing even in resale shops. Throughout the year, the organization accepts new and gently-used clothing and gear from donors around the city.
Twice a year — once in the fall, and once in spring — Give Like a Mother hosts clothing distributions for families who have requested assistance. The goal is to provide underserved children with enough properly-fitting clothing for a week of school, thus reducing the stigma often experienced by those who wear the same clothing day after day.
While much of my work involved researching funding opportunities and applying for grant money, I was able to witness just how much providing clothing impacted underprivileged children and their families at a clothing sign-up I assisted with. I saw a mother whose son wore the same t-shirt and shorts every day because he had nothing that fit. I saw a teenage girl whose siblings wore shoes that were too big because they couldn’t afford to buy new ones.
But even as I saw so much need, I also saw so much hope. I met a baby who had come to a foster family with just a diaper, smiling in bright clothes and a stroller that had been provided by Give Like a Mother. I talked to children whose faces lit up as they talked about favorite characters, colors, hobbies, and sports teams.
One little girl, who looked to be around six or seven years old, was particularly shy, hiding behind her mother in clothes that appeared to be too small for her. She was so timid that her mother was the one answering most of the questions. But after a few minutes of mostly one-sided conversations with the girl, with her nodding or shaking her tiny head in reply, she began to open up about her likes and dislikes. Before I knew it, she was chattering about magic and her favorite fairies, her hands moving up and down as she bounced on her small feet.
Such interactions showed how providing clothing meant more than meeting a need. For these kids, giving them clothing meant giving them back their dignity and self-worth and allowing them to express their personalities. No longer would they have to worry about being ridiculed or bullied; they could now focus on just being kids.
Their families were hopeful, too. With the knowledge that childhood poverty is linked to lower educational achievement and increased exposure to violence, there was hope that their children could rise above their poverty and be successful, that the cycle would not be repeated.
While the statistics and the reality of poverty may seem grim, I realized that someone who cares to help may give hope to the underprivileged, impoverished children in our communities. In the words written by two children at the sign-up, you can “ma[k]e a lot of people smile :)”
Editor’s Note: The Prospect is thrilled to debut a new series, “Dispatches,” in which ‘Prince’ staffers reflect on their travel and work experiences over the summer. Whether close to campus or across the globe, our staff are gaining new perspectives and insights, and we are delighted to share some of them with you.