Eighty children gathered at the Fred Meyer on Thor Street on Saturday to go school clothes shopping with their Big Brother or Big Sister.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Northwest hosts the annual event, raising enough money to give each child a $100 gift card. This year’s shopping spree donors include Pemco, Rotary 21, Kiwanis East, Kiwanis Charities and Columbia Surgical Specialists.
Fred Meyer provided a 20% discount coupon this year, said interim CEO Heather Osborne. The store also provided coffee and donuts for everyone.
“Fred Meyer is wonderful,” Osborne said.
Children can pick out whatever they want while they shop, though parents are asked to fill out a paper that lists their child’s sizes and any urgent needs such as shoes or a jacket.
“It’s really like a shopping spree,” Osborne said. “They get to pick out their own clothes for school.”
While Big Brothers Big Sisters does not take family income levels into account when they sign children up to be matched with a volunteer, many families need the boost the shopping trip provides, Osborne said. “We have found that 85 percent of the families are at or below the poverty level,” she said.
Marci Mattozzi is raising her three grandchildren, ranging in age from 8 to 15, by herself, and all three are matched with either a Big Brother or Big Sister. One of those Big Brothers is Brian Kobes. He was there Saturday to help his “Little” shop.
“I don’t have any kids of my own,” Kobes said. “This has allowed me to be a kid again. Once a week we get to go play.”
Spending time with his Little Brother helps lift his spirits, he said. “The kid is always happy,” Kobes said. “He always has a smile.”
Mattozzi said the Big Brothers Big Sisters program has been a blessing.
“I like the fact that they have other adults to connect with,” she said. “They just give the kids something to look forward to. They bless my kids but I think they bless the Bigs as well.”
Danielle Fletcher has four children, and all are matched. She said she was glad all four were picked to go shopping this year.
“This is the third time we’ve done it,” she said. “It’s huge. It saves $400 out of my pockets. It’s such a helpful program for single parents, for all parents, really.”
The Big Sister of one of her daughters, 9-year-old Zoe Fletcher-Francis, couldn’t attend Saturday’s event so she was matched with a volunteer, Valerie Shelton. After entering the store, Zoe looked around.
“Do they have dresses?” she said.
The two were soon sorting through a rack of dresses, holding them up to see if they looked like the right size. Zoe selected a yellow one from the rack.
“This is awesome,” Zoe said. “I want to try this one.”
Zoe picked several to try on before turning her attention to leggings and T-shirts. Shelton shopped like a pro, guiding Zoe to things she might like and asking her opinion on various items.
Shelton’s husband works for Big Brothers Big Sisters, so she’s often been asked to fill in for a missing Big at the last minute, she said. “I’ve done it many times,” she said. “I like little kids. They’re kind of fun.”
Zoe tried on the clothes she picked to make sure they fit, as a long line formed for the fitting rooms. She selected several of the dresses to buy. She said she likes to wear them to her friends’ houses in the summer since she can wear her bathing suit underneath.
“I just like dresses,” she said.
Finished, she announced that she wanted a pair of dress shoes. After trying on several, she picked a light-pink pair of sandals. Shelton helped her check the price of each item, several of which were on sale or clearance, to see if the total was under the $100 limit. Fletcher-Francis picked the most expensive dress to put back and her remaining three dresses, three outfits and pair of sandals added up to $99.67.
Zoe bounced back outside to meet up with her mother and to pick a new backpack to fill with school supplies donated by Pawn 1, excited about her new clothes and the upcoming school year.
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