Five-year-old Adleigh Johnson plans to wear a new Minecraft shirt to his first day of kindergarten at Lafayette Elementary School.
James Wagner plans to start the fourth grade at Oak Heights Elementary School in a new pair of light up sneakers.
Lebanon resident Kayleigh Barker is planning to start second grade in a new dress.
And Aiden Lillis plans to start his fifth grade year at Waverly Elementary School in a navy colored button-up shirt.
These were just a handful of the approximately 260 low-income kids who got to shop for new school clothes at the Heritage Mall Saturday morning as part of Altrusa International of Albany’s annual KidzShop event. The event pairs kids with adult volunteers who help them pick out $100 in clothes and shoes. Organizers also give kids hygiene kits, snack packs and backpacks loaded with school supplies.
Kathleen Magnuson, president of Albany’s Altrusa group and event chair, said the event takes about $32,000 to put on, and the group works all year to raise more than $20,000 of that.
She said schools and service organizations throughout Linn County recommend kids for the event, which is in its 15th year.
Magnuson said Altrusa’s focus is on literacy and getting kids clothes and supplies for school has a direct impact on how they learn.
“We’re trying to elevate their self-esteem, so they like school,” she said.
If kids enjoy school, she added, they do better in it.
Magnuson said that she remembers how excited she was the night before school started laying out what she wanted to wear the next day. She said she likes the idea of giving that to kids.
Magnuson said around 300 kids were invited to the event, but they had a high number of no-shows this year, many from communities outside Albany. She said next year the group plans to arrange a van to transport kids from Lebanon and Sweet Home because some children can’t easily travel to Albany for the event.
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Lily Poe volunteered at the event and helped Adleigh Johnson shop. She said she enjoyed the experience and is planning to volunteer again next year.
“It’s such a good experience for kids who need help,” she said.
James Wagner, who is 9, said he was so excited for the event that he only slept an hour and a half before the event.
He added that he is more excited to go back to school now that he has new clothes.
“I’m really thankful I got to do this,” he said.
Thomas Pritchard, a volunteer who helped Aiden Lillis shop, said throughout the event he could see the fifth-grader getting progressively more excited as he was picking out clothes for himself.
“He gets a chance to express who he is,” said Pritchard.
Pritchard even offered to buy a ring for Aiden with his own money because it wasn’t on the student’s shopping list.
Magnuson said it’s fairly common for volunteers to offer to spend some of their own money to help kids get a little extra for heading back to school, and organizers support that.
Kaitlyn Braun, a volunteer in her second year at the event, also tried to spend some of her own money to help Wagner get everything he wanted. However, since the event had so many no-shows, organizers were able to cover the overage.
She said shopping with James was a fun experience and she thinks more people should get involved in the event.
“I like to make sure these kids have fun stuff to go back to school in,” she said.