Know Your Neighbor - Jennifer Jacobs, Executive Director, Clothes to Kids - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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Know Your Neighbor – Jennifer Jacobs, Executive Director, Clothes to Kids

Know Your Neighbor – Jennifer Jacobs, Executive Director, Clothes to Kids

The mission that Clothes To Kids Executive Director Jennifer Jacobs pours her heart and soul into every day can all be traced back to a single purple coat.

In 2002, the nonprofit’s co-founder Marie Bouchard McClung purchased a jacket for a little girl in her sister’s classroom. Her glowing reaction to this bare necessity prompted Marie and her friend Jode Frisbie Eye to create a place where low-income or in crisis families could shop for quality used clothing free of charge.

Twenty years later, Clothes To Kids envisions a community in which every school-age child has clothes to attend school with the confidence needed to achieve success. Cheerful, brightly-colored stores are open in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa. A pandemic-inspired option of “Clothes To Go” provides the convenience of wardrobe bags curbside.

Jacobs studied consumer, child and human sciences at Florida State University. There, she met her husband, a fellow die-hard college football fan. She was working at Habitat for Humanity when a former colleague invited her to learn more about the child-focused charity.

The self-described fashionista with an impressive and eclectic earring collection immediately knew she had to be involved. The Tampa resident is passionate about influencing the path of children’s lives by allowing them to express themselves with what they wear.

A Growing Need

Over the past 11 years, Jacobs has had many experiences that drive her calling — from the teenage brothers that shared just two outfits to the family that lost everything in Hurricane Ian. The Florida native receives phone calls from social workers when they discover a child is not coming to school because they did not own proper attire.

Jacobs is emotional when she describes the drastic difference in children’s demeanor when given the chance to shop for what they need. They walk in sullen and leave beaming with shopping bags of outfits they chose that represents their individual personalities.

Twice per calendar year, school aged children that qualify can shop for five tops, four bottoms, five pairs of new underwear and socks, a dress, a jacket and a pair of shoes.

None of this would be possible without the support of the people of Greater Tampa Bay — from essential clothing donors to valued corporate sponsors. The mother of two emphasizes everything goes right back into the community.

See Also

Clothe a Kid, Change a Life

Volunteers are always needed to sort clothes, organize fundraisers, help children shop and tag items. Donations can be dropped off at any store location. Local businesses can even support the cause by hosting team-building events. After purchasing 260 pairs of new shoes, St. Petersburg’s PSCU gathered employees to take them from box to store floor-ready and rolled more than 3,900 new pairs of socks and underwear.

She credits the generosity of GTB with their ability to provide a record-breaking 13,000 wardrobes this year.

Jacobs has witnessed Clothes To Kids positively change many lives for the better. She encourages others not to underestimate their part in making a long-lasting difference for the children of GTB.

“It’s a very meaningful mission,” she says, “We get to help tell a child’s story. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”

By Jennifer Kennedy.

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