PHILLIPS — Generous donors bring books, housewares, coats, hats and other useful items to their local thrift shops and shelters.

Throughout the year, and especially at Christmas, donations of clothes, toys and nonperishable foods are common, but one essential category usually is not on the radar. Many children who these thrift shops and shelters serve are in need of underwear. A national nonprofit group, Underwearness Inc., organized several years ago to address that problem, and recently, local Franklin County residents have joined their campaign.

At a Sunday fundraiser at the Phillips Area Community Center, David and Susan Catino, of Strong, told how a magazine article about the Denver-based charitable group changed their lives. They never had considered how essential these basic articles of clothing could be to contribute to a child’s self-esteem and dignity. Something they both took for granted was not in the budget for many local families. They started their own Underwearness project.

“I decided to buy a package of children’s underwear when I did my shopping,” Susan Catino said.

Over the past two years, the couple has expanded their “one pair at a time” dedication to make sure as many school-age children as possible have this basic clothing need met.
 
They have made inroads by talking to local teachers, nurses and administrators, who quietly distribute donations. Other donations are given to the Western Maine Homeless Outreach. They set up a donation box at Tranten’s Market in Kingfield and have contacted nonprofits to spread the word.

Pam Matthews, a Phillips resident, said she would like to help and organized volunteers for the Sunday fundraiser. The Narrow Gauge String Band played Patsy Cline and John Prine, and the crowd gathered afterward for a hearty potluck supper. In exchange, they brought crisp new packages of all sizes of children’s undies and money for the donation jar. 

“We try to plan a three-months-on, three-months-off schedule,” David Catino said.  “For example, we know kids go back to school in September, so we make a big effort to get as many donations as possible during the summer.”

The Catinos say they don’t want to be the face of the campaign and organizers of the drives for donations. They are searching for well-traveled and secure locations for donation boxes. They also need volunteers who will take responsibility for monitoring the sites, once they are established.

“The boxes can be in a church or a town office or a store, but people need to be willing to be responsible for them,” Susan Catino said.

The last and most critical step is the efficient distribution of the undergarments to the children who need them. Those interested in becoming involved can contact the Catinos at 684-5777 or visit the Western Maine Underwearness Project’s Facebook page. Donations also can be made directly to the Denver, Colorado-based national nonprofit at www.underwearness.org.

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