Thursday, October 2, 2014

Retired School Bus Driver’s Clothing Bank Helps Low-Income Students

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By Angela Harvey

During her years as a school bus driver, it upset Diane Formoso to see some children without coats or proper shoes shivering in the chilly morning air as they waited for her bus. She reached out to several of these students, buying them jackets, shoes, or Christmas presents. Her actions quickly grew into a clothing bank that Formoso opened at an elementary school.

“It just broke my heart to see these kids going without, and I knew that I could do something about it,” Formoso says.

That was more than 40 years ago. Today, Formoso has been retired from her bus route for 10 years and devotes all of her time to working at Caring for Kids, a nonprofit organization
she founded in 1991. It provides clothing, shoes, hygiene products, school supplies, food, and more to thousands of children each year in three school districts in the suburbs of Tacoma, Wash.

“For these kids, I’ll do just about anything,” Formoso says. And part of that means working seven days a week without a salary, having little time for herself, and constant fundraising.

“It’s hard to take time out for yourself when you have all these people with urgent needs. These are kids without food and clothes we’re talking about,” Formoso says.

There is plenty of work to be done, and without any staff, it takes a lot of volunteers to make it happen. A majority of the volunteers are former colleagues, family members, and friends Formoso met through the Washington Education Association. “As a volunteer, you see her showing up every single day and going nonstop,” says volunteer Lyle Attebery. “It makes you want to do the same.”

Caring for Kids has partnered with several organizations and local churches, and Formoso never misses an opportunity to spread her message to anyone who will listen. Volunteer Jo Benedetti says Formoso is tenacious in her efforts to get people involved in Caring for Kids, especially at union meetings.

“Diane told a lot of stories about the kids and their needs. When you are not seeing it firsthand like she is, it can be easy to turn a blind eye,” Benedetti says. “But, Diane would not let us pretend that this was not going on in our community.”

Benedetti says Formoso often brings visuals to help make her point, such as a pair of shoes without soles or ones being held together with duct tape.

Formoso’s efforts are paying off. Each year Caring for Kids holds a Ready to Learn Fair to provide clothing, school supplies, immunizations, haircuts and vision, hearing, and dental screenings before school starts. In the winter, a Holiday Fair provides food and gift baskets to needy families. New books are given to kids to celebrate NEA’s Read Across America. This is all in addition to the thousands of children served throughout the year by Caring for Kids’ clothing, food, and school supply banks, which are available in the Clover Park, Steilacoom Historical, and University Place school districts.

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