Shop, Wrap and Deliver: Skillman’s Clothe-a-Child Program
Writer / Joyce Long
Photographer / Chris Williams
Each year, Santa’s elves invade Greenwood the first week of December. Volunteers, assisted by Ray Skillman Auto Group employees, shop and wrap clothing items for families of 1,100 children throughout Central Indiana. Volunteer Amy Estabrook, a special education teacher at Clark Pleasant Intermediate School, coordinates this annual Clothe-A-Child project and works with school counselors to identify recipients.
A majority of Skillman’s 980 employees donate through automatic payroll deduction, which this year raised $188,000, an amount Ray matches. Estabrook emphasizes that every penny donated goes to the children. The company pays for expenses, which totals approximately $700, and includes administrative items such as folders, labels, gift wrap, boxes, tape and transportation.
Since it began in the early 1900s, Clothe-A-Child has grown into a massive volunteer effort and event. Ashley Haltom, Skillman’s Internet sales manager explained, “Years ago, we started to help a few families in our community since it had been so good to us. We saw the need was expanding, so the program grew to include families outside of Greenwood.”
1,100 Needs Met
This year’s allocation was $160 per child, and volunteer shoppers received a folder for each child detailing sizes for two outfits, a coat, gym shoes and socks. A toy was also included. The Greenwood Kohl’s store, which offered discounts, allocated four cash registers for Skillman shoppers during the 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. buying spree December 1-3. Significantly discounted coats were purchased from JCPenney.
A majority of the shoppers include Skillman employees, but a few schools send classes and faculty to help. For the past 15 years, Lutheran High School’s senior class spends three days volunteering. Extended Learning classes from North Grove and Center Grove Elementary Schools also help. Rosa Parks Elementary literally sends Santa’s helpers as their fifth grade and kindergarten class buddies dress up as elves and work in pairs. To protect confidentiality, volunteer students are never given children’s folders from their school.
Children chosen to receive these gifts attend 50 different schools including various Indianapolis Public Schools.
They also include entire corporations such as Greenwood, Center Grove, Clark Pleasant and Franklin Township. Perry Township’s Southport Middle School, Glenns Valley Elementary and Jeremiah Gray Elementary also participate.
Clothe-A-Child’s outreach extends to Martinsville Schools along with PALS from the Indianapolis Police Department and Community Caring and Sharing, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization serving the Mars Hill area in Decatur and Wayne Townships.
Elves at Work
Estabrook’s annual Clothe-A-Child challenge is having enough help for such a massive undertaking. “I always wonder if we will have enough volunteers to do the shopping and wrapping since this is a word-of-mouth project, but every year it works out.”
She appreciates ongoing help from groups such as Roncalli High School’s softball team that assists each year.
After the gifts are purchased each day, they are delivered by 2 p.m. to Ray Skillman’s personal car museum located near Skillman’s Greenwood Ford Dealership. The afternoon and evening elf shifts take over. Groups such as faculty and administrators from Clark Pleasant Intermediate School often enjoy working together to wrap gifts.
Skillman drivers then deliver bags full of wrapped gifts to the schools where these are given to families of the children. “When the gifts are handed out, there is no note in the bag saying they’re from Ray Skillman Auto Group. We encourage parents to put these gifts under the tree marked from them and/or Santa,” said Estabrook.
In her four years of coordinating Clothe-A-Child, Estabrook, whose husband is employed by Ray Skillman Auto Group as a finance manager, remembers many poignant moments. One time while in the Greenwood Kohl’s store, a man handed Estabrook $20 to help with Clothe-A-Child.
Sometimes moments are even more dramatic. Last year, the night before Thanksgiving, the Estabrooks — Amy, her husband BobbyLee and daughter Ashlynn — were shopping for children’s coats in Greenwood. Usually, there are plenty, but the sizes needed weren’t there. At 8:45 p.m., they walked into the Plainfield JCPenney and voila! Coats were found, and a new liaison was formed.
Much has changed since Clothe-A-Child began over 20 years ago when a few managers from the Ray Skillman Auto Group decided employees should purchase basic needs for area children in lieu of an in-house employee gift exchange. Retired sales representative Wayne Ramsey remembers enlisting the help of consumer science teacher Karen Begley of Greenwood Middle School where his wife Becky taught eighth grade social studies.
From those first 20 students helped to the current 1,100, local generosity keeps Greenwood’s elves busy during the first week of December.