It began in 2005, as such things often do, with a couple of gentle and good hearts and a kind of family ministry born out of Our Lady of Lourdes church in Raleigh.
Susan Reiland of Raleigh got a call from her daughter, a kindergarten teacher, who was working in a Raleigh school where a number of students were poor.
“It was her first teaching job, and she was very excited to meet her kids,” says a friend who would come into the picture a little later, Dallas Bonavita. “When they walked in the door their hair wasn’t combed, no one had read to them, their clothes were inadequate and they were hungry. She called her mom and her mom said, ‘We can’t fix everything but we can do something.’ ”
So Reiland gathered up coats for the kids before the weather got cold, and every child had a coat. But half of the coats were returned.
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“Parents couldn’t believe anyone would give them a coat,” Bonavita said. “So they sent the coats back to them with a note in the pocket that said, ‘This is your child’s coat to keep.’ ”
And therein began Note in the Pocket, now a mission, a nonprofit, devoted to clothing poor children. It might be coats, or underwear, or socks. Bonavita is the executive director. (Reiland admirably prefers that attention focus on the organization.)
From its beginnings out of Reiland’s home, Note in the Pocket now has a multitude of partners and relies on school social workers and other organizations in Wake County to pinpoint children in need.
“When we find a child,” Bonavita said, “we put together socks and underwear and other clothes. And we deliver the clothes because they can’t get here from Zebulon and Apex and North Raleigh.” Last year, the organization provided something like 48,000 pieces of clothing. Several hundred volunteers help get the job done.
Making a difference, yes it does, and when Bonavita and others involved think about it, even after the organization’s been around for 10 years, the tears flow.
“Some 51,000 kids here qualify for free and reduced lunches,” Bonavita said. “They’re struggling. If they miss school they fall behind. If they show up with clothes that make them look bad and feel bad ... we can alleviate some of that and it can make everything better.”
The stories...so many stories that break the heart and yet lighten it with some kindness that makes a difference.
“A couple of weeks ago, there was some torrential rain, and it was so cold that morning,” Bonavita said. “I can remember lying in bed just crying, thinking about kids at bus stops without clothes that day. I had a social worker come in, and she was crying. She said four children had gotten off the school bus with short-sleeve shirts. We got coats for those kids.”
And this: “We got a letter from a mom who had gotten everything the child needed, and he was so excited about this coat that he had slept in it that night. He said, ‘Mom, I can stand at the bus stop with a coat that zips up.’ ”
Another little boy had five shirts and wore them all at the same time to stay warm. He has a coat now.
Bonavita says, “This is a secret in Wake County. This is a drastic need. I’ve had people tell me there are no homeless kids in Cary. That there are no homeless kids in North Raleigh. But there are homeless camps.” The statements bother her, a lot. But Note in the Pocket is too busy carrying on the mission to worry about such people.
The organization needs donations, more storage space, volunteers, public awareness. “We need all 12 cities and towns in Wake County to know who we are,” Bonavita said.
Toward that end, it will hold a 5K run on May 9, Mother’s Day weekend, at 8:30 a.m. on the Dorothea Dix campus. They’re calling it “The Note in the Pocket Socks and Undie 5K Rundie.”
Here is some more contact information. The organization can be reached through a site, http// noteinthepocket.org, and 919-714-9403. It has an office mailing address at 9650 Strickland Rd, Ste 103-168 Raleigh, NC 27615, and a volunteer center in North Raleigh.
Good people, they are. Very good people.