A ‘cool’ partnership

Thousands of students throughout the Charlotte area, including students from south Charlotte’s Montclaire Elementary, will receive brand new uniforms at the start of the school year, thanks to a partnership between Belk and United Way of the Central Carolinas.

Belkie the Bear helped deliver more than 3,300 uniforms to be donated to students in Mecklenburg, Union and Cabarrus counties through the Belk and United Way Get Cool 4 School Campaign.

Belkie the Bear helped deliver more than 3,300 uniforms to be donated to students in Mecklenburg, Union and Cabarrus counties through the Belk and United Way Get Cool 4 School Campaign.

Belk and United Way recently hosted the “Get Cool 4 School” campaign for the third year in a row. Through the campaign, Belk provides new school uniforms to students in need in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Union county schools.

Belk held a special ceremony on Monday, Aug. 12, announcing recipients of the more than 3,300 uniforms to be distributed throughout the Charlotte region. More than 2,100 of those uniforms will go to students from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and United Way-funded agencies including: Albemarle Road Elementary, Ashley Park Academy, Billingsville Elementary, Bruns Academy, Walter G. Byers Academy, Druid Hills Academy, Hidden Valley Elementary, Montclaire Elementary, Nathaniel Alexander Elementary, Sedgefield Elementary, Thomasboro Academy, Winterfield Elementary, A Child’s Place and Communities In Schools.

Students modeled the uniforms runway-style before they were delivered to the receiving organizations. Belkie the Bear showed up for a dance party as Belk and United Way representatives spoke about the partnership.

United Way originally came up with the idea of a partnership to provide uniforms to families with financial struggles. Because multiple schools throughout the Charlotte region require students wear uniforms, purchasing the clothing creates a new financial burden for these families, according to Jerri Haigler, vice president of education, engagement and communications for United Way of the Central Carolinas.

“You have people working to meet basic needs, and their kids need new uniforms,” Haigler said, adding many children outgrow their uniforms from year to year and need multiple clothing sets to keep from having to launder every day. “There are a number of people unemployed or underemployed. It’s hard for them when they’re struggling to put food on the table.”

In 2011, United Way reached out to Belk, asking for donations of school uniforms for children in CMS. Belk leaders immediately agreed to partner with United Way for the Get Cool 4 School campaign.

“The minute we heard about it, we jumped on board and said, ‘Yes, we absolutely want to do it,’” said Jessica Graham, vice president for communications and community relations for Belk. “You hear a lot about (other needs), but you don’t hear about the need for uniforms … it’s just a challenge that, I think, we didn’t really realize.”

Phyllis Boykin, a parent of one of the children who received uniforms last year, can attest to the impact Get Cool 4 School has on families within the community. Boykin spoke about her experience at the ceremony, explaining how the program changed her and her family’s lives.

“I can honestly say I could not have made it if it had not been for” the Get Cool 4 School campaign, Boykin said during the ceremony.

She added, “It keeps parents from having to debate with their child on what they’re going to wear the next morning” and “helps students keep their focus” during school.

Belk donated uniforms to CMS schools in 2011, and the company expanded the campaign to reach students in Union and Cabarrus counties in 2012. This year, the campaign will provide more than 4,000 uniforms to students in Union, Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties; Jackson, Miss.; and Savannah, Ga. The more than 8,500 two-piece uniforms Belk has donated over the past three years totals to an approximate retail value of $200,000.
Graham said the company plans to continue expanding the campaign to reach more students, both locally and nationally.

“Belk operates in 16 states, and our community involvement also spans 16 states,” she said. “We’re identifying communities where there’s a need and we could reach out to the United Way (in the area).”

Belk is encouraging community members to help the Get Cool 4 School campaign by donating uniforms to students in need. Find more information on how to contribute at www.belk.com/uniforms or www.uwcentralcarolinas.org/belk-uniforms.

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