Local Ministry Provides Clothing For Children In Need

Writer  /  Flannery Posner
Photography Provided

Kid’s Closet Ministry was founded in 2013 by Linda Lewandowski after she recognized there was a dire need in her town of North Judson and throughout all of Starke County.

“God called and put it on my heart that the kids in this county needed some help,” she says.

A lifelong resident of North Judson, Lewandowski works for the Starke County Initiative for Lifelong Learning (SCILL), a vocational school, and at the Starke County Economic Development Foundation. Her passion for children inspired her to actively reach out to help provide for children in need in her own county.

“The idea of this ministry was that no one was going to come to us, they weren’t going to come in our walls to be served,” she says. “We were going to have our feet on the ground and we were going to be out there. We will be in their homes and that’s how we still do it.”

Kid’s Closet Ministry serves children of all ages in Starke County and children in neighboring counties who attend school in Starke County. They provide clothing, boots, shoes, new socks and underwear, beds or bedding, blankets, age-appropriate hygiene kits and much more to children who are in need.

When she had the idea to start Kid’s Closet, Lewandowski talked to her pastor. He told her she would have to present the idea to the administrative board and have two people from the church present to support the idea, too. The board approved Kid’s Closet, but Lewandowski had little to get it off the ground.

That didn’t stop her from getting started. She began collecting items by going to yard sales and rummage sales every weekend throughout the spring and used her own money to purchase a few items. She also made business cards to leave at each sale, told people what she was trying to do and offered to pick up any remaining children’s clothes if they would be willing to donate them.

“I was amazed by how many people called and said, ‘You can come get the remaining kids’ clothes,’” she says.

In her first year, she accumulated a collection of children’s clothing, then hosted a rummage sale the following spring, which raised $2,000. That money went to host her first pack-a-backpack event, which provided backpacks full of school supplies to children in need. In her first year of that event, she was able to provide backpacks and supplies to 108 children.

Since that time, Kid’s Closet Ministry has only continued to grow. They collect their items through donations, and Lewandowski applies for grants for coats and boots. She also hosts a rummage sale each spring, which brings in $4,000 to $5,000, and a fish fry in the fall, which brings in close to the same amount. That money allows Lewandowski to purchase items for children if they do not have what the child needs from the donations.

Kid’s Closet Ministry has also grown in the number of people serving and those served. Lewandowski has the help of an army of 40 to 50 volunteers from all over the county, many from other churches of various denominations all working together for the same cause. In 2018 alone, Lewandowski says they made 1,256 service calls. And the annual pack-a-backpack event has grown, too, serving 600 children in 2018.

Children are identified to receive help from Kid’s Closet in a variety of ways. All school systems have the Kid’s Closet paperwork, so if a teacher recognizes that a child may need clothing, he or she can either give the paperwork to the parent or the school will often times contact Kid’s Closet directly if they see an immediate need. Parents or teachers can also call the North Judson United Methodist Church to provide a child’s information, at which point a volunteer from Kid’s Closet will follow up for more information and schedule a home delivery soon after.

The home delivery is the primary way of serving the children.

“This is about building their self-esteem and making them feel like any other child that’s in their school,” Lewandowski says. “So we make sure that what they have fits, that they like it, that it’s their style.”

If the clothes they bring to the child do not fit, the volunteer will go right back to the Kid’s Closet facility and exchange it for something else and bring it back to the child. Before the volunteers leave, they pray with the families for any of their needs.

Lewandowski has seen for herself the difference Kid’s Closet has made in so many children’s lives.

“I see a lot of kids with growing self-esteem,” she says. “I’ve had other staff members in schools tell me what a difference it makes.”

She recalls the time a friend who worked in the school system tried to tell her about one of her students who had received clothing from Kid’s Closet.

“She just started bawling and had to turn around and walk away over this young man that received clothes from Kid’s Closet, and this is a high school student talking about this,” she says.

Another teacher had a child in her class who was causing trouble and bullying other children, that is until he had a visit from Kid’s Closet.

“She said he came into the classroom and he came up to her desk and said, ‘Look, Kid’s Closet was at my house last night. Look at my shoes, I got new shoes,’” Lewandowski says. “And she said he was a completely different kid, a complete turnaround, just because his self-esteem had gone up. He felt like everybody else. He didn’t feel like he had to stand out in a different way.”

Kid’s Closet has not only had a profound impact on thousands of children’s lives in Starke County.

“Kid’s Closet has become my life,” Lewandowski says. “It’s just what God has called for and as long as he keeps blessing it, nothing can stand against it because the kids need us. The kids need us desperately. If anything ever happened to this ministry, I honestly don’t know what the kids would do because they count on us, they know us by name. They go to school and talk about Kid’s Closet.”

In October 2018, Lewandowski was approached by a couple who had a vacant building in North Judson, and they wanted to learn more about her ministry. With that, Kid’s Closet Ministry had a new home after previously storing all donations in the church basement.

“God just keeps blessing it,” Lewandowski says. “It’s amazing how he has blessed it over the years.”

If you are interested in learning more or making a donation to Kid’s Closet Ministry, you can call the North Judson United Methodist Church at 574-896-5927 ext. 4. The Kid’s Closet building is located on Highway 10 in North Judson. There is a donation box in the front of the building to drop off donations. There is also a donation box in front of the Bella Vita Pregnancy Resource building in Knox.