The Town: Northampton, Massachusetts
The School Director: Susan Swift
The Idea: For a week in early December, the front hallway of the Montessori School of Northampton turns into a cold-weather gear shop. Gently used snowsuits, snow pants, and jackets hang from racks, while neat rows of gloves, mittens, scarves, and boots line tables. But the items aren't for sale—they're free for the taking at the school's winter-clothing swap. The swap focuses only on outerwear, which can be expensive, before it goes on sale later in the season, says head of school Susan Swift, who helped parents start the event ten years ago. "The swap has become a way for families to look after one another." Indeed, families don't have to donate any clothes to shop. "A family might not have anything to give one year, but they still might need boots," says Lindsay Sabadosa, a volunteer whose daughter is a third-grader at the school.
How It Works: Each year, a team of class parents organizes the swap. By early October, Swift begins publicizing the event and asking for donations on the school's Facebook page and in the parents' newsletter. But advance notice is key. "Winter can sneak up on you, so getting the word out early gives families enough time to go through their kids' clothes and find out what doesn't fit," she says. A week before the swap, volunteers set up large cardboard donation boxes at the school. Next, two volunteers organize the items by type and size. They place jackets and snow pants on a clothing rack, lay out boots by size, and display mittens, gloves, scarves, and hats on tables. This way, parents who are in a rush don't have to rifle through boxes. The swap opens to its eager "shoppers" on a Monday morning. "Most of the items are gone by Wednesday," Swift says. On Friday, the volunteers bring any remaining clothes to a local charity.
Now You Try It: Check with the principal or PTA/PTO at your kids' school about starting a swap. Or try your church or civic organization—the event works at any site where families gather.