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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘We want it to feel special’: Teen & Kid Closet reaches youth in need with outlet for quality clothes, shoes, accessories

Near downtown Spokane, a tidy boutique-style outlet has racks of apparel for babies, children and teenagers. There are new shoes, jewelry, makeup and grooming products.

The site is Teen & Kid Closet, a 15-year-old nonprofit providing free clothes and accessories for children and youth living in poverty, foster care or homelessness in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. The site, at 307 E. Sprague Ave., serves about 2,000 kids a year.

Each child or youth up to age 22 is referred, perhaps by another agency such as a Family Promise shelter, Catholic Charities, a social worker or school counselor. The families visit on scheduled days each month to find a boutique-like feel that is purposeful, said Robyn Nance, a KXLY news anchor and co-founder of the nonprofit with Linda Rogers.

“We really want it to feel like a shopping experience versus a clothing bank,” Nance said.

“We don’t want kids to feel like they’re getting somebody else’s hand-me-downs or junk. We want it to feel special and for kids to feel proud of what they leave here with and be excited. We have some kids who have never owned something new with a tag on it.”

The site has dressing rooms to try on clothes and a back room where volunteers sort donations.

The nonprofit takes donations of gently used clothes – and preferably newly purchased apparel – that can be dropped off at any First Interstate Bank branch during business hours. On only the first Saturday of each month, volunteers can receive items during open hours at the outlet on Sprague.

It can’t take used undergarments – socks, underwear, bras – those must be new in packages, and the nonprofit won’t accept items with stains and rips, Nance added.

For some apparel on display, Teen & Kid Closet organizers have bought the merchandise from retailers by using donated dollars or grant money.

As a new fundraiser, the nonprofit is hosting its first adults-only Bourbon and Bacon Bash within the Historic Flight Foundation at Felts Field from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. It will feature about 26 food and beverage vendors for chef-created, bacon-themed foods along with bourbon, beer and seltzers. Proceeds from the event with live music will benefit the nonprofit’s mission, with tickets $45 to $75 in advance online or $65 to $95 at the door.

Nance said some people in the community buy extra clothes to donate when out shopping for their families. A few Spokane businesses do donation drives, as well.

This past week, Rick Clark with Spokane Quaranteam delivered a donation of Seattle Seahawks apparel valued at about $5,000, organizers said. Most of the youth served by Teen & Kid Closet have no other access to nice clothes.

The closet’s range of support has expanded significantly since 2007 when Nance and Rogers first met over coffee to discuss ways to help youth. Nance had worked on a story with Rogers when they agreed to grab coffee and talk.

“Linda was a foster parent recruiter, needing to recruit foster parents, and I was at KXLY doing ‘Wednesday’s Child’ stories when she wanted to talk about other ways to help kids in care,” said Nance, who still does “Wednesday’s Child” KXLY segments about children in the foster care system needing adoptive families.

“We actually both had seen a national story about a similar setup called Taylor’s Closet, a boutique specifically for teenage girls in foster care in Florida. We were talking about it and thinking, ‘Do we have anything like it?’ I actually reached out to the people who ran that closet; they gave us some nice ideas.”

In a matter of months, the two women helped open what was then the Teen Closet in September 2007, inside a tiny space off Sharp and Napa. That early focus was only on foster care teens, girls and boys, in Spokane County. But shortly, they heard about much wider needs.

“We’d only been open a handful of months when people started reaching out from other counties,” Nance said. They heard from Molly Allen, Safety Net cofounder, asking if the closet could serve older foster children. A school leader called after seeing a child who wasn’t in foster care wear the same clothes several days in a row.

“I kept going back to the board saying, ‘What do you think?’ ” Nance recalled. “We kept expanding the mission, and we outgrew that (first) space in about a year or two.”

A second location was in Spokane Valley, until the third move in 2017 to the current site, with about 4,000 square feet. That relocation coincided with another big leap: support all the way from newborns to young adults.

“We were only supporting teenagers up until 2017,” Nance said. “Our mission kept expanding, and then we were asked to take over another nonprofit that was basically doing what we did, but for babies to about 12 years old.”

The Teen Closet leaders were asked about taking over that other entity, but, “We kept saying no, that we just need to dial in what we’re doing. Then they said, ‘Well, they’re going to close.’ We couldn’t let that happen, so we found a bigger place and took on the whole gamut of kids.”

Nance and Rogers both remain involved and are board members.

Today, the closet is open by appointment during four days each month, but back-to-school days are added in August and September. Kids can come back every six months, although a referral is still needed.

Overall, volunteers are seeing more families that need the support.

“What people should know is that the need is getting more and more serious and more and more severe,” Nance said.

“The numbers of kids we’re helping just go up every single year. We’re seeing the types of families who have never needed this kind of service before. We have parents in tears because they didn’t think they would be in a situation where they would need free clothing for their kids, but they are so grateful it’s here. I think the community needs a huge thank you for supporting us.”

The nonprofit works closely with organizations that have similar missions: Project Beauty Share that provides makeup, Spokane Quaranteam, Cleone’s Closet, Safety Net and Embrace Washington that supports foster families to have experiences in sports, education and more.

Teen & Kid Closet has nearly 30 volunteers, but more are always needed, said Sean Grubb, board president. Roughly 150 kids are served each month. Peaking in 2019, about 2,000 got support that year. Now, the trend is up again.

“We’re up about 20% this quarter compared with this time last year,” Grubb said. Factors might include kids back in school, more community activities, an influx of people moving to Spokane and higher consumer prices.

Around that need, the nonprofit’s focus remains on the kids, their dignity and self-esteem. Volunteers help guide them around the store, Nance said. “Our volunteers make these kids feel special.”