Help me help buy clothes for a couple kids
August 6, 2011 5:41 PM   Subscribe

I need tips and advice for buying clothing / essentials for a family who lost their home in a fire.

This family of 4, (Mom, Dad, Son 5yrs & Daughter 2yrs) lost their home last week to a fire. I don't know them well, their son is a chum of my nephew, and I've only met them once at a birthday party. They are staying with relatives, in somewhat close quarters.

(I had intended to just send them a Target gift card for $100, but then I had a former colleague call to ask me to cover a shift for him and I decided that I'd work it and give this family the proceeds. When I told the the other doc that I was covering for what I was doing, he offered to match it. Then the owner of the animal hospital offered to match it too... so I ended up with $2400 to give them. Yay for awesome co-workers!)

The family does not want the cash, they would prefer clothes for the kids and some essentials, what I don't spend will be given to them in cash. The mom said she is just so overwhelmed, that shopping for an entire wardrobe for two kids is work she does not want to do. When I asked her for specifics, she was very vague, but I did get sizes and favorite colors. She is very gracious, but both she and her husband are shy and (I suspect) very overwhelmed.

The 5 year old will need uniforms for school, play clothes, dress outfit (?) shoes/socks/underwear and pajamas.

The 2 year old will need play clothes, a dress or two, shoes/socks/underwear and pajamas.

I bought several laminated inexpensive dressers and rubbermaid storage totes to store the clothing.

I have no idea how much of what to buy. Given that she might not have access to laundry facilities, I would think at least 5 school uniform outfits, maybe more? How many pjs? Should I purchase mostly winter clothes? Coats?

Should I focus on higher quality clothes, but get fewer or go to someplace like Target or Old Navy where I can buy more quantity?

I will make sure to give them all receipts, and my husband (a CPA) is handling all the tax implications so they don't get screwed at the end of the year.
posted by Nickel Pickle to Shopping (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you think they have insurance that will pay for the loss, then I would get them inexpensive items that are mostly appropriate for the weather you have in the next few months (until they get a check from the insurance).
posted by Houstonian at 5:59 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: A friend of mine recently had a similar situation- you're doing a very nice thing.

I would think winter clothes would be more helpful than lots of summer things. Clothes for cooler weather will be helpful until next summer whereas summer clothes would only be helpful for another couple of months. Kids are growing so Target/Old Navy makes more sense. You can get them lots of basics and a couple of fun items. You could also get a few warm weather clothes on sale/clearance this time of year.

My friend was also happy to get things like a backpack and accessories for her bicycle.
posted by thewestinggame at 5:59 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: You might ask around and see if they are practical types. If they are, probably they would rather have cheaper clothes but have all their bases covered. The kids will outgrow the clothes pretty quickly, so buying expensive clothes is probably best saved for one or two dress-up outfits.

Probably you want to get at least these amounts per kid (more if they have limited laundry access):

10 daily outfits for current size/season
10 daily outfits for next size/season
2 nicer dress-up/family picture outfits
4 pajamas
14 sets of underwear and socks (find out whether 2 year old is using diapers or training pants or what)

1 warm-weather shoes for play (eg sandals) assuming you're in a warm season now
1 sneakers
1 dressier shoes
maybe 1 rainboots

1 winter coat - whatever size they will be then
1 raincoat
1 winter hat + mittens set
1 summer hat/baseball cap - if you're still in summer now
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:02 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: LobsterMitten surely has the right list for kids clothes. I'd say the adults also need clothes and a set of travel size toiletries, perhaps. Other things that quickly come to mind:
a couple of notebooks and some pens,
perhaps a prepaid cell phone if they don't have one,
a pair of scissors
a small first aid kit,
a box of Pampers unscented wet wipes and refills,
baby shampoo
Ivory soap
foldable canvas totes in two or three sizes,
a dozen face cloths,
a couple of sets of towels,
two or three cotton thermal blankets,
large and small rain ponchos
a small set of secure disposable plastic containers (for snacks, clean-up cloths, whatever)

I'm running out of steam, but will come back if I think of more. They will be able to use money; they are still in shock.

You are an angel to do this. Good for you.
posted by Anitanola at 6:44 PM on August 6, 2011

Also, give the Red Cross a call. They should be able to help as well.
posted by 4ster at 7:08 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: It would also be thoughtful to get the older boy, especially, some small toy type stuff. Pokemon cards, a handheld electronic game, that sort of thing. Something that's definitively *his* and *for him*.

Also, bags to put laundry in.
posted by SMPA at 7:19 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: Definitely get a week's worth of uniforms. (I just had this discussion to day with a good friend who's about to buy this stuff for his little girl.) Make sure you get the right uniform colors. A couple of cute stuffed animals for each. Some story books, maybe even a small portable DVD player and a few nice kid DVDs. Crayons and paper.

People who know the family might volunteer a little babysitting so the parents can take care of business or just have some quiet time.

Tickets to the local zoo or aquarium, if there is one.
posted by mareli at 7:31 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: Lands' End is great for kids' basics, and uniforms, and they very regularly have sales and "25% off clearance plus free shipping if you spend more than $75"-type sales. They also have excellent customer service and reply to e-mails quickly (and actual people answer the phone when it rings). I would call or mail them and ask for their 'personal shopper' service to help you assemble the wardrobes, and tell them the story, and see what they could do for a %-off even if they're not currently running that sort of sale. I think that is your absolute best bet for clothing, both for value and quality. Stuff from the clearance section is cheaper than Old Navy's regular prices.

Their stuff tends to be a little plainer (classier) than the cheap stuff, too; cheap children's clothing likes to have all sorts of gaudy stuff emblazoned on it that the kids may not appreciate. (My daughter is 3 and quite aware of when she is dressed nicely and when she is not; I tried to put her in a skirted swimsuit the other day, and she wouldn't hear of it until I Google-image-searched skirted swimsuits and she was reassured that lots of other people wear suits like that. A "wrong" thing printed on a tee-shirt can be a big deal for a small kid.) Lands' End also lets people return anything at any time for any reason, so. Yeah.

And I am so sorry... And, hooray for you and your lovely co-workers.
posted by kmennie at 7:48 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: As a parent, I'd probably appreciate a mix of kids clothes. Old Navy is probably the easiest along with Target and The Children's Place.
posted by k8t at 8:35 PM on August 6, 2011

And unless the kids are really tiny, buy the next size up.
posted by k8t at 8:38 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: A stuffed animal and small blanket/quilt for each kid - something that they can hold to for comfort. For a boy, I would tend to get a dog, tiger or similar wild animal (not a teddy bear or doll). For the little girl, almost anything that is soft and fills her arms. The blanket should be washable, feel nice to touch and be the right size to take with them on a trip as well as to sleep with.
posted by metahawk at 8:44 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: One of the first things we had to run out an buy after our house fire was a cheapish digital camera. We had to take pictures of all the stuff we threw out for the insurance. (The fire restoration company/swindlers we hired were suppose to take picture of everything. They did not. They sucked. Thank god I took my own pictures of everything.)
posted by artychoke at 9:39 PM on August 6, 2011

About whether to get t-shirts with logos or whatnot: my nephew around that age loves to have different pictures of fun things on his shirts and shorts and pajamas, and he picks out what to wear based on the picture - rocket man? dinosaur? monkey? etc. Maybe you can ask your nephew's parents what the son usually wears and try to get clothes in the same vein.

I wonder if the kids might need swimsuits too - if it's still pool season where you are.

Something nice for a 2 year old is a little stepstool to help her reach the sink etc.

You could get the kids some dishes of their own: plate, bowl, cup (sippy cups for little one); little one probably still needs special blunt kid forks - check out Target or similar and you'll see a range of this stuff.

A few bath toys might be nice, especially if they come with a mesh bag or basket to keep them all contained.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:53 PM on August 6, 2011

Should I purchase mostly winter clothes?

And, sorry to keep posting - I think you should focus on what they need for right now (starting from zero) and for the next say 4 months. By 4 months from now, hopefully they will have gotten their feet back under them somewhat and will be in a position to buy their own next-size clothes. So you aren't mainly doing plan-ahead shopping. You're doing "get us back to having a functioning household, with clothes, toys, etc for right now".
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:06 PM on August 6, 2011

Your dollars will go a lot farther in a thrift store such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
posted by megatherium at 4:47 AM on August 7, 2011

This is a good time of year to buy layers if you're somewhere that is approaching fall - pants that zip into shorts, tshirts and long sleeve shirts that can be worn together, leggings, and light fleeces or sweatshirts. If you have outlets nearby Osh Kosh and Carters are reasonable priced good quality stores.
posted by Sukey Says at 4:48 AM on August 7, 2011

I agree with getting some things for "transition" until they can get insurance money. Thrift stores can be an amazing buy for basic staples like towels, sheets, etc.

Also, my parents passed away a couple of years ago and we ended up donating a lot of their things to a family who'd lost their home to a fire. It was someone we had a professional relationship with, so it wasn't a random stranger, but it leads me to think... perhaps you could find some folks having an estate sale and say, "hey, if there's stuff you have that you're not going to sell, but no one in the family really wants... that stuff you're planning on donating..."

This is more along the lines of furniture and household goods, but they will need that as well.
You're very kind to do this.
posted by Sabine3283 at 6:08 AM on August 7, 2011

I think calling a Land's End personal shopper and telling them the story would be really helpful. They are really nice and could help put the whole thing together. Excellent customer service would be a real bonus for a project like this. Plus, if the family needed to return anything it would be relatively simple and hassle-free.
posted by belau at 7:45 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your dollars will go a lot farther in a thrift store

But. I don't know a great deal about thrift stores in other cities, but in Ottawa, assembling a decent -- not close to nice, just decent -- full wardrobe, for two children, would take probably two days and quite a lot of gas, and even then I don't know if it would be do-able, especially given the difficulty in finding non-trashed coats/shoes/swimsuits, and undergarments and socks. You can't just walk in thinking "Okay, need size 5 khakis [4 prs] and swimsuits [she doesn't like pink] and..." If one is a thrift-store shopper one shops there: frequently, hopefully. One finds wearable garments in the right size only from time to time, and only after picking through a lot of pilled Walmart junk. And there are no returns if the zipper breaks, but with Lands' End you can just bring it back to Sears...

(OTOH if the OP has friends like me who enjoy the thrill of the thrift store hunt, it would be a nice idea to put them to work scouring the thrifts for items to supplement the basic wardrobe. Some thrifts are in the habit of giving clothing for free in certain circumstances, so perhaps if a manager was given a heads-up and a newspaper clipping... But, again, finding what one needs in thrift stores is quite a lot of work.)
posted by kmennie at 8:03 AM on August 7, 2011

I second suggestion made by belau to talk to a personal shopper at the stores; not only will they help get everything hassle free, but many stores will take a personal interest in helping a family in need - discounts may be offered.
posted by _paegan_ at 10:34 AM on August 7, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all SOOO much for the advice.

I ended up using Land's End, they were amazingly helpful and gave us a great discount, threw in some extras and shipped free. For the remainder, we went to a couple department stores, armed with LobsterMitten's list and the other suggestions.

I spent less than $1300 and got:

5year old boy:
9 uniform bottoms (7 pants, 2 shorts)
12 uniform tops
5 pants
3 shorts
10 shirts
4 pajamas
3 shoes, lots of undies and socks
2 hats
fall coat, winter coat
beach towel
handheld game
backpack full of school supplies

2year old girl:
5 pants
3 shorts
3 dresses
2 skirts
13 shirts
4 pajamas
4 shoes, lots of undies and socks
1 hat
fall coat, winter coat
2 swimsuits
beach towel
stuffed animals
some wooden puzzles
backpack full of art supplies

For the family:
digital camera
inexpensive laptop
passes to the Detroit Zoo
Gas gift card $100
cell phone chargers (they have phones, just no charger)
kid plates, cups
laundry bags
hour massage for mom
round of golf for dad

And last, but not least, a check for $912 dollars to use for whatever they need. I really could not have done all this without all your help. Thank you all so much for taking time to help me! You're the best :)
posted by Nickel Pickle at 11:18 AM on August 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

That is so wonderful; what a great outcome. You and your colleagues are doing a great thing. When something so awful happens, not only is it good to have practical help, but it's also so good to be reminded that other people are caring. (Gives one a positive thing to focus on, in a time where there's so much negative.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:42 AM on August 7, 2011

Awesome outcome. I'm so glad about the laptop and camera; the 'treats' for mom and dad are very thoughtful. You all did a very good thing; I know you really made my day!
posted by Anitanola at 4:01 PM on August 7, 2011

Children's Place and Gymboree have nice clothes, and often their sale racks are good. The Lands' End stuff at Sears is good, too (htough not as good as it used to be.)

You're doign a great thing, and it's fantastic how many people have pitched in to help you. For the cherry on top, consider calling ahead to a few of the stores you'll visit and ask for the manager. They may be able to help out, too, by offering a discount or by finding a few things to conveniently mark down for you. At the very least they may lend a hand selecting appropriate clothes.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:37 AM on August 8, 2011

Dang, I am but an echo today. Still, enjoy the karma from this act of selfless service.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:38 AM on August 8, 2011

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