Baby Luv and PSMJax Partner to Bring Clothing and Hope to Expectant Mothers and Families With Young Children.
Baby Luv operates out of a small cottage with a welcoming front porch just west of the river on Timequana Road. Three days a week, for two hours, the doors open wide to give low-income mothers and families free access to the essentials of baby and mother care, including diapers, clothing, shoes, personal hygiene essentials, cribs, strollers, baby seats, and more. While the need for clothing and other essentials is the draw, both bags and hearts are filled here.
Baby Luv is a program of Community Health Outreach, which also runs a food pantry and a low-cost medical and dental clinic. Baby Luv has become a place where women know that grace abounds, and they feel safe sharing their life stories. “We are not just a come in, grab your diapers, and go kind of agency,” said Shavon Botsford, Baby Luv’s director. “We want women to feel that if there is more they need on a mental, emotional, or spiritual level, they can ask for it here.”
Initially, clients come for clothing, diapers, and other essentials. A fresh supply attracts clients over the long term as they work to keep their children clothed through rapid growth spurts. Over time, relationships develop as the staff and volunteers lend an ear and gain the confidence of clients. In addition to stocking the small space with an abundance of clothing, books, toys, and more, staff looks for signs of emotional distress, abuse, or mental health issues among caregivers. Providing clothing and other essentials often leads to healing hearts. “We are here to listen, we are here to connect, and we are here to support,” said Botsford.
Two days a week, staff restock the shop with clothing and other household goods from PSMJax and other donors. “We pick up inventory from PSMJax once a month, and having items already sorted and labeled by size and season is a real-time-saver,” said Botsford. “We are able to get those items out on the floor without delay, and they go quick! We are packed after we unload a pickup from PSMJax, but within 2-3 weeks, we are ready for a new batch. If we could make pick-up runs more than once a month, we would!”
PSMJax has made it easier for Baby Luv to include clothing for different age groups and even trendy items for mothers thanks to donations from a valuable women’s retail partner. Valuable baby equipment is often included. Botsford explained the greatest reward is seeing the serendipity that occurs here so often. “To see the crib that was donated come off the truck and then literally, as we are unloading it, to see a mother come up and say, ‘I need this…I’m about to give birth next month’ is the most beautiful thing,” Botsford said.
While PSMJax does not make direct contact with the individuals who receive the clothing, hygiene, and household donations, their role is invaluable to the agencies they support. “PSMJax is literally the lifeblood of our program,” said Botsford. “We have a skeleton crew of volunteers, and the organization PSMJax provides makes our job so much easier! If you are supporting the mission of PSMJax, you are supporting us!”
PMSJax distributes over 300,000 items annually to over 23 partner agencies that redistribute it at no cost to approximately 60,000 recipients in northeast Florida, Palm Beach County, and various other countries. The goal is to connect those who have with those who need, and though they don’t physically put clothes into the hands of the needy, they secure and manage the inventory for dozens of organizations that do. Together we achieve what cannot be done alone and change lives in the process.
Find out more about Baby Luv here.
PMSJax Helps UCOM Urban Serve Revive Clothing Support Services
Since 1978, UCOM Urban Serve (originally United Community Outreach Ministry) has strived to address the needs of people living in poverty in south Jacksonville. Volunteers from five original partner churches started by going door to door to learn about the needs of low-income residents in their neighborhoods. They eventually expanded Meals on Wheels in the area, established a food pantry, started a youth employment program, and set up a clothing closet. Their expertise in food distribution grew, and this became their focus. The clothing distribution program ended, not because it wasn’t needed, but due to tremendous challenges with inventory management and storage.
Today, UCOM Urban Serve has 62 participating churches and serves over 1800 families with emergency services and through Meals on Wheels to over 300. A recent survey revealed that clothing was still one of the top three budget challenges for families. Executive director Sara Mitchell began exploring ways to bring back clothing distribution services without the previous challenges. When she discovered Presbyterian Social Ministries’ (PSMJax) Clothing with Purpose program, she knew she had found a solution! Clothing with Purpose collects, sorts, stores, and redistributes new and quality used clothing and household goods to over 23 partner agencies committed to redistributing them at no cost. In short, PSMJax does everything UCOM and other direct service agencies distributing clothing struggle to do – storage, inventory management, and developing relationships with retailers and other donors. Mitchell met with PSMJax CEO Teri Ketchum, and a partnership was formed!
UCOM’s Resource Closet focuses on professional clothing for working caregivers. This has become their niche. “In our culture, our clients feel they have to look a certain way or dress a certain way to be taken seriously,” Mitchell explained. “This creates insecurity and causes them to spend emotionally. We help them over this hurdle by pulling fashionable, quality options from the PSMJax inventory.” A dedicated UCOM volunteer maintains a shopping list of client needs and goes to PSMJax weekly to “shop” for each client. Those clients return to UCOM where they try on and select clothing, matching handbags, accessories, shoes, ties, shirts, and more to complete 3-4 snappy professional outfits. Clients in the medical field can get several sets of scrubs, saving up to $30 per set. UCOM partners with The Giving Closet Project (GCP), another agency supported by PSMJax, to fill the clothing needs of children and youth. In addition to clothing, PSMJax provides UCOM with bedding, household goods, and products for elderly clients.
“When we do budget counseling with a family and are cheering them on to save an extra $20 a month, we love giving them opportunities to meet their needs with goods and services we can provide at low or no cost. It is difficult to ask them not to spend on certain needs without giving them an outlet to shift that budget item,” said Mitchell. Clothing from PSMJax fulfills a family’s clothing needs at no cost. Mitchell estimates the partnership with PSMJax saves UCOM $5,000 a quarter. “This allows us to add another needed support while focusing our energy and resources on building client relationships.”
Stories of relief and joy have emerged from the UCOM/PSMJax partnership. A wheelchair-bound client struggled to find affordable clothing that was easy on/easy off. The client explained to UCOM’s Resource Closet volunteer exactly what she needed, and a selection of appropriate items were pulled from PSMJax to meet her needs. Mitchell shared that the client was so thrilled with her new items, she tried them on and showed us why they made dressing/undressing so much easier. "Many items were high-end brands, and we were thrilled to be able to show her the market cost of what she was taking home,” Mitchell said.
Another client, a teacher, was told in a performance review that she needed to dress more professionally at work. The dress code for teachers also changed, and the jeans she often wore were no longer allowed. With no funds to supplement her wardrobe, she turned to UCOM. Her needs were put on the PSMJax shopping list, and within days, she was able to choose from a selection of appropriate work outfits.
PSMJax distributes over 300,000 items annually to over 23 partner agencies that redistribute it at no cost to approximately 60,000 recipients in northeast Florida, Palm Beach County, and various other countries. The goal is to connect those who have with those who need, and though they don’t physically put clothes into the hands of the needy, they secure and manage the inventory for dozens of organizations that do. Together we achieve what cannot be done alone and change lives in the process.
Find out more about UCOM here.