Joni Gordon, president of the Pink Feather Foundation, left, and Jen Kyllonen, treasurer, co-founded the Oxford-based nonprofit that allows underprivileged children and their teachers to shop for donated clothes online for free. Donated cardboard suitcases with the washed and ironed clothes are sent to local schools for the students to take home. (Erin Place/Advertiser Democrat)

Molly Littlefield, 14, of Oxford checks a photo she took of donated clothing that will be given to a student through the Pink Feather Foundation. (Erin Place/Advertiser Democrat)

All clothes donated to the Pink Feather Foundation in Oxford are sorted and ironed before photos of them are placed online for local children to shop. (Erin Place/Advertiser Democrat)

Mallory Gordon, 12, foreground, and Molly Littlefield, 14, tag and size clothes at the Pink Feather Foundation in Oxford. All the donated clothes sent to the foundation are listed online for students to shop for for free. (Erin Place/Advertiser Democrat)

OXFORD — The Pink Feather Foundation has taken the idea of a clothing drive for underprivileged youth in need to a new level — providing online shopping for free clothes for students in SAD 17 in Paris and RSU 16 in Poland.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, seven volunteers, including President and co-founder Joni Gordon, her 12-year-old daughter Mallory Gordon, and treasurer and co-founder Jen Kyllonen, worked at the nonprofit’s headquarters in the Oxford Plaza.

The freshly painted space — work and supplies were donated by Peter Ford — is buzzing with activity. Mallory and 14-year-old Molly Littlefield of Oxford took turns tagging, hanging and photographing clothing.

Justin Corrente of Oxford, who has volunteered with the Pink Feather Foundation since the beginning in 2011, ironed clothes while others went through the bags upon bags on donations and sorted them. The high clothing racks were donated and installed by Dean & Allyn Inc..

The newest service of the Pink Feather Foundation was launched in January after Gordon, who works at Oxford Elementary School, and Kyllonen realized the need for clothing for students. Students are allowed up to a week’s worth of clothing, which is packaged with tissue paper and a paper suitcase.

“Everything is strictly through a staff member at the school,” Gordon said. “(The students) can take it home on the bus with them.”

“It is kind of a twofold,” Kyllonen said. “If a teacher sees a student in need, they can log on (and) they can use it as a bonding experience with the child to have that excitement of picking out their own clothes … having that pride … the confidence piece.”

Speaking from experience, Gordon added, “The majority of kids, they don’t normally get the chance to pick out their own clothing. They don’t have control of what comes their way and what they get to wear. They get to go shopping.”

Kyllonen was able to secure a donation of 1,500 paper suitcases from International Paper.

“It was important for us for the kids to feel like they’re not giving a Walmart bag of hand-me-downs,” she said. “We want the kids to feel like they’re getting new clothes.”

That’s why they ask for gently used clothing.

When foundation volunteers began collecting clothes, Gordon stored them at her house. Some of it had to be moved to Kyllonen’s garage and next thing they knew they were in excess of 3,000 pieces of clothing. They needed a new space and Oxford Plains Speedway was able to provide that at 1570 Main St., Suite 2, in Oxford.

The reason the two women started the Pink Feather Foundation was to teach their children — they each have two — an important lesson in volunteering and giving back to the community.

“We have kids and want our kids to bring back the fundraising days and help people and know what that feels like,” Gordon said.

“They were excited to help, she said. “We had a group of boys do the shoes. I will never forget it, they were having so much fun lining the shoes up and angling the shot. … It is fun to watch our kids get excited about it, we definitely let them feel like this is theirs, too.”

“When we started this, my kids were 3 and 5,” Kyllonen said. “It was learning how to give back to your community and the importance of learning if you see something that’s not right or needs to be changed, you can do it.”

And it’s working thus far.

“I think it’s a great way to give back to the community and help people in need,” Mallory Gordon said as she tagged a pair of small gray pants. “The experience here is we can come and help out.”

The majority of the Pink Feather Foundation’s volunteers are area youth looking to get community service hours. Such is the case for Molly Littlefield, who manned the photo shoot station with Mallory.

“I like doing this because I love working with clothes. I love shopping,” she said. “I feel like I can really give back to the community.”

Molly said that after she reaches her required number of service hours, she plans to continue to volunteer for Foundation.

Pilot school

The first clothing donations were dropped off in March at Elm Street School in Mechanic Falls, the pilot for the program. To date, they have filled 13 orders. The feedback they’ve received has been heartwarming, the organizers said.

“These care packages made a world of difference in the lives of four kids who live a chaotic transient life and their uncle whose already stress-filled life was turned upside down when they moved in,” one person wrote. “The three … students wore their new clothes the very next day from when they were picked up and all three were walking with a little more pep in their steps! It was like Christmas in June for them.”

The Foundation has agreements with 15 schools between the two school districts, which encompasses 11 towns.

Other organizations have given grants to further the work of the Foundation. Stephens Community Healthcare Foundation paid for the cameras, tripods, lighting and laptops. Maine Community Foundation helped with new furniture, including tables and desks. Northeast Bank gave $1,000.

The Foundation was also given 10, one-day Hopper passes for Disney World for a fundraiser. The plan is to raffle them off and draw the winners on the first day of school. Tickets are $20 each. The money will cover insurance and operating costs.

While many of the volunteers are teens, there is room for more volunteers.

“The volunteer work is something all ages can do — elementary school (students to) seniors citizens,” Gordon said. There’s plenty of ironing, sorting, photographing and upload to the website.

For information, pinkfeatherfoundation.org/volunteer-application.html.


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