By Kimberly K. FritzMay 10, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (May 10, 2012)- Need is the mother of all invention -- ask a few military Families how they manage to stretch their monthly budgets to seemingly impossible boundaries, and you'll likely find a plethora of creative approaches.
To help combat big expenses like clothing two Fort Lee moms have organized a clothing swap where Families can bring gently used clothing items they are no longer using to trade or contribute and collect clothing items others have.
Military wife and mother of three growing children Bobbi Brown began the initiative in her garage with just a few neighbors several months ago. She created a Facebook page and soon had a growing and eager-to-participate fan club.
With the help of fellow Army spouse and mother of three boys, Michelle Lewis, the movement has grown into a once-a-month, multi-day swap were more than 100 people have benefited.
The partners are becoming fast friends through their endeavor. Brown describes herself as shy and insists that Lewis is the extravert the organization needed to get the word out about the clothing swap to the Fort Lee community. Lewis said she saw the Facebook site and quickly started spreading the word by posting information on other Fort Lee Facebook pages. She wasn't affiliated with the swap at that time, just an enthusiastic supporter. Brown quickly recruited her and now they work together, they said, to help military Families like their own.
As word began to spread, parents of growing boys and girls were interested in finding out where and when the next swap would take place.
Eventually the duo would like to find a room on Fort Lee that they could use to set up a place to store the clothing in a more permanent setting.
"As of now, after each swap we divide up the remaining clothing and store them in our garages until the next meet," Lewis said. "It takes a lot of time to set up and tear down each of the swaps."
The most recent swap in April was the most successful, Brown said. She attributes the large turnout to having it at the Jackson Circle Community Center.
"I had reserved it for a baby shower and had an extra day so we decided to hold the swap there," Lewis said. "We have been able to reserve the center for several days in June, which allows us to collect donations for a few days and have daytime and evening hours for the swap."
Brown began the swap when they arrived at Fort Lee and didn't find one.
"My children have always gotten clothes handed-down to them, and we've always passed along the things we couldn't use any longer," Brown said. "When we got here, there wasn't anyone to hand-down to, and I hate to see things wasted."
Brown said she likes to help other military Families because they know what it is like to stretch a budget.
Kristina Seymour said she is thankful that there are military spouses who are willing to sacrifice their time and energy for the greater good of the community.
"It's very inspiring," she said. "These events are not just appreciated or fun, it's what the military is about. It's helping those around you, meeting new people and gaining culture."
Seymour said she hopes the endeavor continues to grow.
"They've started something awesome, and I hope more people reap the benefits of their service to the community," she said.
Lewis said they aren't doing anything exceptional, just what needs to be done.
"My oldest son grew nine inches in 10 months," she said. "Every few weeks I was shopping for new clothes for him. I missed the clothing swaps."
That is a point that many parents can relate to. Ana VanderMolen said that her daughter, like all children, grows quickly and can go through clothing at an alarming rate.
"The swap helps our Family by reducing the amount of money we have to spend on clothing," she said. "Swapping with others helps us all get what we need. I am so grateful for Bobbi and Michelle making it possible."
Swapping is good for the environment, too, Lewis said. "It's basically recycling and reducing what we put into landfills."
Brown's motivation is clearly helping other military Families. "It's about helping your neighbors," she said.
The Fort Lee Clothing Swap accepts donations of all types of clothing (excluding underwear) for men, women, youth and babies. Baby items are always in demand and welcome at swaps.
The next swap is set for 11 a.m. -- 2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. June 4-8 at the Jackson Circle Community Center. Donations will be accepted on June 4. Swapping will begin June 5.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/#!/pages/FOrt-LEe-Va-CLothing-swap/182485741827109.