Alicia Cooper, Contributor

Spring is around the corner, and the Charlotte Grange and Charlotte Food Shelf are gearing up for another season of partnership in the Charlotte Hand-Me-Downs clothing drive.

If your family members are sifting through your wardrobes planning for the warmer weather to come, consider donating outgrown children’s clothes, footwear and outerwear as part of this April’s event. It’s a great way to keep resources in our community and out of landfills for as long as possible.

Image by Carla Burke from Pixabay

After responding to a call for volunteers on Front Porch Forum last spring, I found myself with several other volunteers amidst rows of long tables on the first floor of the Charlotte Grange Hall. The first table on the left had signs for “0-3 months,” “3-6 months” and so on. The signs snaked around the room ending with “14-16.” A separate area at the head of the hall had been designated for shoes and boots. Throughout the morning, neighbors dropped by with their donations — some with a handful of items, some with bags upon bags. Our volunteer crew unpacked and sorted the clothes and footwear and watched the tables fill.

The Charlotte Food Shelf has been partnering with the Grange for years to provide children’s winter wear for the families served by the food shelf. In the spring of 2021 this expanded when Grange member Tai Dinnan started Charlotte Hand-Me-Downs to match outgrown, high-quality used clothing and footwear with many families who would benefit from lessening the high costs of outfitting their growing children. Through this program, the Grange has been able to collect and package gently used clothing (along with a coat, snow pants, boots, hat and mittens in the fall) for each child served by the Charlotte Food Shelf twice a year.

I first learned about the program last year when I was looking for an outlet for the clothes my son was rapidly outgrowing. Having been the grateful recipient of hand-me-down baby clothes from friends, neighbors and colleagues, I loved the idea of being able to pass things on, even without a specific recipient in mind. I certainly wasn’t the only one; in each of the spring and fall seasons during the last two years, more than 20 Charlotte families have donated their outgrown children’s clothing and winter gear to neighbors in need.

I enjoyed seeing the spring drive come together, so I came back to help again in the fall. The effort is volunteer-powered and has proven to be a fun way to make new connections in the community. A fellow volunteer and I covered a lot of conversational territory while organizing an astonishing volume of kids’ clothing. On a subsequent day I got to know a different person while packaging clothes by size. By the time the sorting and packing were through, I was feeling more connected to my community and moved by the generosity on display.

Surplus donations find homes with neighboring community organizations. After last spring’s clothing collection, the remaining items were contributed to the Hinesburg Friends of Families clothing swap where they are made available for community members to “shop” at no charge. Extra items — especially extra winter gear — from last fall’s clothing drive were given to Charlotte Central School so that back-up items could be available at school whenever students might need them. The Grange is exploring even more ways to support local families with this effort in 2023.

Since last fall’s collection concluded, I’ve been packing up items on a rolling basis as my son has outgrown them. I’ve got bags at the ready and I’m looking forward to bringing them to the Grange Hall in April to add to the mix. The Grange will soon announce specific days and times in early April when donations can be dropped off at the Grange Hall on Spear Street. Details will be posted on the Charlotte Grange website: charlottegrange.org. Your donations would be most welcome and would absolutely make a difference for local families.

Don’t have any donations but want to get involved? Consider volunteering to receive or sort the clothing. Everything helps — even an hour or two of your time would be appreciated. It’s a fun way to connect with neighbors, new and old. A call for volunteers will go out on Front Porch Forum in the coming weeks; you can also send an email if you’d like to be added to a list of potential volunteers who will be contacted in April.

As this latest snow melts and we contemplate spring cleaning and clearing, let’s also consider how any abundance could be put to use elsewhere in our neighborhood. Sharing children’s clothing is another example of how we can be stronger together.

(Alicia Cooper lives in Charlotte and is a member of the Charlotte Grange. Through programs of various kinds, the Grange strives to honor our agricultural roots and help build a resilient future for all. See the website for more information.)