By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

Victoria Woods gingerly opened the door to the dressing room and stepped out wearing her summer T-shirt and brand new navy uniform pants. Her eager face and eyes locked on to one person for an assessment of the fit, her mother.  

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St. Vincent de Paul’s Uniforms for Kids program began distributing uniforms for back-to-school July 9. Families can pick up two tops and two bottoms for each child in grades pre-K through eighth. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

“Those look fine,” Vicki Woods said to her daughter as she handed the 10-year-old another pair of new navy shorts to try on.  

Three weeks before school starts, Woods, of Baton Rouge, brought her children, including 8-year-old Tyler Palmer, shopping for new school uniforms at the St. Vincent de Paul Store on Plank Road in Baton Rouge as part of the Uniforms for Kids Program. The 21-year-old program operates on the second floor of the SVDP building in a warehouse-style room.  

From floor to ceiling, tall metal shelves line the perimeter of the room, loaded with neatly folded navy and khaki shorts and pants and polo-style shirts in navy, red, white, green and burgundy. A small section was set aside for dressing rooms. In a corner of the room is the base of operations: volunteers and workers accepting paperwork from families who have signed up to outfit their young children.  

“This program helps single mothers and children that are sometimes less fortunate and not able to afford these uniforms,” said Woods. “St. Vincent de Paul sends letters to parents to help the kids get what they need for their uniforms. Most parents aren’t able to get the uniforms so it helps us out a lot.”  

Parents, grandparents and legal guardians of children in pre-K-through-eighth grades have been bringing in the students to shop since the uniform distribution began July 9. According to Cheryl Scott, director of Uniform for Kids, the program helps approximately 2,500 kids annually in 12 civil parishes that make up the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

“We’re getting more families, we’re getting more grandmothers that are raising grandchildren,” explained Scott. “At the end of the year we have an inventory of the sizes, so we ordered according to the need for sizes. This year we order more than 30,000 pieces.”  

Nancy Thomas of Baton Rouge brought her children Jeremeyah Booker, 3, and Trevor Hymes, 8, to shop. Each child receives two bottoms and two tops. Thomas, who has three older children, including one in college, said Uniforms for Kids helps her stretch her dollars.  

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Vicki Woods makes sure her son, Tyler Palmer, gets the right size as they shop for back-to-school uniforms at the Uniforms for Kids distribution warehouse.  

 

“It allows me to be able to buy other things without having to worry about buying uniforms,” said Thomas. “It helps because I can buy school supplies or other things.”  

Although the back-to-school uniform distribution wraps up on Aug. 9, situations continue throughout the school year when a student needs a new uniform, according to Michael Acaldo, president and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul. He said some people might have transportation issues while others don’t know about the program. In those cases, Uniforms for Kids provides “emergency uniform boxes.”  

“We have a tremendous number of children that are living in poverty in our diocese and this is a way we can reach those children and help them in their education, to help propel them to successful outcomes,” Acaldo stated. “I can tell you, through the years, I’ve been to some of these schools where children show up and they’re lacking a uniform and saw their humiliation.”  

Acaldo noted other emergencies that might arise during the school year including a house fire or an eviction that sends a family to the Bishop Ott Sweet Dreams Shelter.  

“This is a way that we can respond and help that child when they come to the homeless shelter,” Acaldo stated. “So that’s a way that those uniforms can be provided from the beginning of school all the way through to the end of the school year.”  

The Uniforms for Kids program is funded by private donations and partnerships with WAFB Channel 9, Locke Meredith-Sean Fagan and Associates, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health in Baton Rouge and the Albemarle Foundation.  

“I think it’s really, really good because you can see that there’s some good people in the community that understand that everybody has a rough patch. And, when their uniforms are too small for them, I actually re-donate them to help someone else out,” said Thomas.   

“Thank you, God, so much -we’re really grateful.”  

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A volunteer helps a young student get the right sized uniform shorts.