As a women’s non-profit, Va. helps children she never meets

A Prince William County woman founded Boxes of Basics, a nonprofit organization that distributes clothing to children in need.

Boxes of Basics helps match donated clothing with students in need.

Courtesy of Sarah Tyndall

Boxes of Basics volunteer.

Courtesy of Sarah Tyndall

Boxes of Basics matches donated clothing items with local students who need them most.

Courtesy of Sarah Tyndall

In 2017, a friend reached out to Northern Virginia mother Sarah Tyndall, explaining that the friend had left what was described as a “bad situation” with four children and that she had little to no resources.

A woman needed clothes for children. So Tyndall, who was staying at home at the time, started collecting clothes from friends in the neighborhood.

Quickly, Tyndall said, she gathered enough clothes to fill up her SUV several times. She noticed that the donations were of good quality — in some cases nicer clothes than the ones she buys for her 7- and 9-year-old sons. She admired the willingness of those around her to participate and donate.

Finding donations as a service prompted Tyndall to consider other ways to give back and served as motivation for Boxes of Basics, a nonprofit she founded out of her basement in 2018. The organization works with school social workers and other community groups to provide seasonal clothing items to children in need.

As of early October, the group had distributed 632 boxes, Tyndall said.

“What I love about Boxes of Basics is that we don’t just help one type of child, like foster children or refugee children. We help them all,” Tyndall said. “It could be a single parent who is overworked and just doesn’t make enough to provide for the basics for their children. We help different people.”

At night, Tyndall began brainstorming, working on applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and determining the best ways to distribute the clothing. The goal from the beginning, she said, was to figure out a way to package things so “I’m not giving them a garbage bag of used clothes.”

Tyndall asked her husband if she could use a corner of their basement to store donations, but it didn’t take long for the entire basement to be filled. More than 100 volunteers entered Tyndall’s home to help sort clothes and pack boxes.

The group has now moved from the basement to a new location in Old Town Manassas.

Tyndall said the clothes are collected through school clothing drives and local churches, and there are several donation sites in Prince William County. Boxes of Basics also has an Amazon wish list and a Walmart registry on its website, so people who don’t have time to shop in person can contribute.

The group, Tyndall said, is largely funded by individual donors and community grants.

Tyndall hired the nonprofit’s first part-time employee in the spring and has yet to pay herself, she said.

When it comes time to pack the boxes, volunteers are given information about the child’s size and individual circumstances. Each outfit is wrapped and labeled, and each box contains 15 to 20 packages of clothing “that are new to them, in great condition, and that have been chosen specifically for them,” Tyndall said.

In the boxes are school clothes, “outfit” – two sets of pajamas, a pack of new underwear, socks, shoes, a winter coat, a hat, gloves and a scarf, if the group has them. They also always include a dental kit – containing a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss – and an age-appropriate book.

Volunteers add written notes to each box, even if they don’t meet the recipients. About 80% of referrals come through school social workers, Tyndall said, and those who request the box serve as an intermediary between the group and the child. Once the box is packed and ready for delivery, the organization reports who made the referral.

“I never meet the students,” Tyndall said. “I never see the students. I’m motivated by the feedback we get.”

In one case, which came from a social worker who referred an elementary school student, the boy had blisters on his feet because his shoes were too small. He was wearing child-sized socks. In the box, the boy received new shoes and a seasonal wardrobe. The social worker said he was running with excitement and was no longer in pain.

In a similar case, the social worker stated that the 2nd grade student had no clothes. So he got a box of new clothes and his mum said that although he didn’t like going to school before, he felt confident and woke up 30 minutes earlier every day after his wardrobe was updated.

“Giving someone a warm winter coat or a new pair of shoes is a small thing to me, but a big thing to a kid who’s struggling,” Tyndall said.

Boxes of Basics is looking for new ways to expand, Tyndall said, after giving away 450 boxes in 2021 and more than 600 this year.

Additional information about Boxes of Basics is available online.

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