Care, Share and Wear founder Linda Cook is the first of five nominees for the 2012 Taranaki Daily News Person of the Year award. Reporter Hannah Fleming has interviewed each of the finalists and their profiles appear this week before the winner is announced on New Year's Day.
Almost a child a day has been freshly clothed by New Plymouth's Linda Cook this year.
The founder of Care, Share and Wear said she thought her idea would run for a term or two and fizzle, never once dreaming it would escalate into what it is today. "I literally planted a seed and grew a forest - overnight," she said.
Her creation centres around high-decile schools holding a week-long clothing collection where children bring clothes to school to pass on to struggling families.
Depending on gender, each child gets four skirts or pairs of shorts, four pairs of trousers, four winter tops, 12-20 T-shirts or singlets, pyjamas, a coat, hat, socks and shoes.
"We make sure each one gets a little toy or a book now as well."
The idea was born in August 2011 after Ms Cook saw two children walking to school poorly dressed for the freezing weather.
"They were dressed for the middle of summer in a singlet, no footwear, trackpants they'd obviously outgrown over the years, and I just sat there in the car and thought how can this be?
"That was the biggest tug on my heart."
Ms Cook, now known as "the clothes lady", and her team have visited 10 Taranaki schools at least once, and given more than 350 children three bags of new clothes each.
Care, Share and Wear groups have popped up in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch since word got out about her venture. In Taranaki the organisation now provides for newborns, and any surplus clothing is donated to Taranaki Base Hospital's maternity ward.
It is the first port of call for Women's Refuge, has become a registered charitable trust, and as a result of its unexpected growth recently moved to larger premises.
A good measure of the growth rate, Ms Cook said, was at a Waitara primary school.
Last year the school took orders for 15 children, this year the number was 54.
"It makes it all worthwhile when you drop off a car full and boot-load of clothes and see the reaction from the kids.
"That brings home what it's all about.
"It's extremely rewarding.
"We've had principals who are speechless.
"One said to me, ‘you haven't made my day, my week or my month, you've made my year'."
The help and support she received from volunteers and the community had been the most overwhelming part, she said. "There wouldn't be a week go by that someone doesn't contact me wanting to donate."
Ms Cook said the psychological benefits clothing can have had blown her away.
"When you've got children who can't wait to get out of bed because they've got new clothes to wear, instead of being the last one to school, or not turning up, it's nice to know they're going to school because they're proud of their new clothes."
Ms Cook said Care, Share and Wear provided one young boy with all he needed for a fresh start after he was pulled out of a difficult family situation.
"When he started school two weeks later he just blended in and looked like the other little boy next to him.
"If you've got a child who's happy and warm and blends in with their mates then the rest just rolls on."
Ms Cook said she understood different forms of poverty would always be evident in society, but if she's able to help the best way she knew how, she would continue to do so for a long time to come.
"Food will always been an ongoing dilemma and I don't know the answer to that one. But I think I've found the answer to the clothing one."
- Taranaki Daily News
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