‘Unmentionables’ often an overlooked need for youth

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United Way of the Tri-Valley Area Executive Director Lisa Laflin and Community Resource Coordinator Nichole Ernest begin filling more than 500 Packs for Progress backpacks. In addition to school supplies, backpacks contain youth undergarments collected by Western Maine Underwearness Project. (Dee Menear/Franklin Journal)

FARMINGTON — Preparations for a new school year usually mean shopping for brand-new clothing and shoes, and fresh supply of notebooks and pencils. For many families, school shopping can be a stressful financial time and items are often overlooked.

A couple from Strong realized there was a need for children to have new, clean underwear and have been diligently working to make sure that need is met year-round.

“I am amazed there would be this much of a need for something as simple as underwear,” said David Catino who, along with his wife Susan, started Western Maine Underwearness Project nearly two years ago

It all began when Susan happened across an article about the Colorado-based non-profit Underwearness. Koree Khonhand-Buckman founded the organization after her brother-in-law mentioned his family had little money when he was a child and would get excited when they received clothing donations which included barely used underwear.

Susan was struck by the article and started adding a package of children’s undergarments to her cart on shopping trips. When the Catino’s contacted Underwearness to see how to donate their purchases, the couple was led to start a local project for gathering and distributing undergarments, including socks and preteen bras.

The trouble the Catino’s had was getting the collected donations in the hands of local youngsters that needed them. David stressed all donations are distributed to local children.

A year ago, the Catino’s partnered with United Way of the Tri-Valley Area to distribute collections. Since then, nearly 3,000 packages of undergarments have been collected and distributed through Packs for Progress, Tools for Teachers and area food pantries.

UWTVA Executive Director Lisa Laflin stated the parent Underwearness project recently made a substantial donation. “We are thrilled because it filled about half the Packs for Progress. Coupled with contributions from the community, we were able to put a package of underwear in every backpack unless parents specified otherwise,” Laflin said.

Students in all 17 greater Franklin County area schools benefit from the program, which also provides students with basic school supplies. UWTVA Resource Coordinator Nichole Ernest said as of Tuesday, 510 applications for the program had been received.

While United Way handles distribution, the Catino’s are in charge of setting up collection locations and spreading the word about the project by speaking at churches, clubs, and organizations.

“The United Way touches everything we were touching, and so much more,” stated David, “Right now we are only touching on Tri-Valley location. My wish is someone picks up on this and decides to run the program in another area.”

Laflin noted the undergarment supply was depleted with the Packs for Progress program. Pledges and continued community support throughout the year will allow the organization to supply youth underwear to food pantries and school.

Western Maine Underwearness Project drop boxes are located at the UWTVA office, Reny’s Department Store in Farmington and Tranten’s Market in Kingfield.

dmenear@thefranklinjournal.com