It was 2003 when Lynn Young, founder of Lowcountry Orphan Relief, first noticed the need for a clothing resource for foster children in the area while volunteering with DSS. She didn’t hesitate to develop a support system which would aid a cure. The establishment of LOR was the product.
“She started collecting new and gently used clothing from friends and neighbors and before you know it she needed a place to store all of it. And so here we are, fast forward to 2021,” said Lois Ritcher, current executive director of LOR.
The nonprofit began creating child care kits, which contain two weeks worth of clothes, toiletries, pajamas, books, a winter coat, and a new backpack filled with school supplies. Although originally established with the primary mission to supply foster parents with proper clothing and hygiene kits for the child, today LOR serves homeless shelters, children’s advocacy centers, domestic violence shelters, hospitals and anyone else that reaches out to them for help. “We never turn a child away, ever ever,” said Ritcher.
Since its launch, an additional branch of LOR coined as a ‘Just in Case Closest’ has been created, born from the observed lack of adequate clothing for children in title one schools, the closets are a resource for students to find pants or shirts in the case of not having items that fit properly or aren’t weather appropriate.
“Their little children, it’s embarrassing for them, when they come to school and their clothes need to be longer or they have an accident or whatever the reason is,” Ritcher said.
Ritcher emphasized the significance of the volunteers that give LOR their time and assistance with each of the intricate processes allowing them to meet the needs of children in the low country. Lindsey M. Coutu, program assistant at LOR, manages the ‘Just in Case Closets.’ Coutu started off volunteering with LOR and quickly found a passion for the mission.
“I was one of the volunteers that wouldn’t leave,” Coutu said laughing.
Today, LOR has installed approximately thirty closets throughout title one schools in the lowcountry, with an ambition to eventually equip every school in the lowcountry with one. One of the most recent additions, located in Sedgefield Middle School in Berkeley County, is now fully supplied and available to students.
“I had a school nurse call me to thank me because she said had this little boy coming in and he was wearing his sister’s clothes that were like six sizes too small. We dropped off clothes at that school the other day and he now has his own pants now which he hasn’t had in a long time,” Coutu said.
LOR asks the school to provide them with just the physical space for the closet and from there, Coutu and other staff and volunteers work to get the closet filled. Ritcher says that the goal is that once LOR builds and supplies the closet, community partners and parents would step in and continue to restock it as needed. Since 2003, Ricther estimates that LOR has supplied roughly 50,000 child care kits. As more ‘Just in Case Closets’ come to exist in schools throughout the low country, that number of children who are able to receive the resources they need is predicted to only continue to grow.