WASHINGTON– Trick or treat?
For many children this Halloween, being able to wear a costume may be the biggest treat of all.
Let’s Help Kids, a non-profit organization started by six-year-old Rachel Harris (who is now 12), conducts a Halloween costume drive every year to provide free costumes to children in need.
The organization’s goal is to provide children with “that extra stuff that helps a kid really feel like a kid,” said Let’s Help Kids executive director Jen Sterling, Rachel’s mom. Her organization provides items such as toys, bicycles, backpacks, books, and during this time of year, Halloween costumes.
“Halloween is a super important part about being a kid. It makes me sad to think some kids stay home because they don’t have a costume,” Rachel said in a text message.
The Halloween Costume Drive is in its third year, and Let’s Help Kids sets up drop-off boxes at grocery stores and costume stores across Maryland and Virginia.
The donated costumes are given out to children staying in local shelters. Local Girl Scout troops help clean and repackage the costumes before they are distributed. This year, costumes were already given out at Women Give Back, located in Sterling, Va.
“It’s such a big part of who kids are, being able to play make-believe and dress up and go out with their friends to get candy,” Jen Sterling said. “It’s one of those innocent things that kids get to do that make them feel like kids. It’s like a right of passage.”
Board member Steve Kelley said that the group will be collecting costumes into November, to start preparing for next Halloween, and plans on expanding the number of drop sites even more next season, including in the District of Columbia.
Kelley predicted that the number of costumes collected this year will surpass last year’s 460 donated outfits.
Last year, Sterling said, the children’s eyes were “as big as sausages” when they realized they could just pick out whatever costume they wanted from the booth set up at a church in Sterling, Va.
“Can you imagine when you were a kid if you had been the only one on your block that didn’t have a costume?” Sterling said. “Put the costume aside, don’t let it get put in the play box. Put it to good use.”
Let’s Help Kids has been giving out donated Halloween costumes since the non-profit’s beginnings by making catalogs and handing them out to local shelters for children to pick from. This mass collection drive started after Rachel and her team realized how many costumes were being collected and donated.
“The neighborhood we grew up in, kids had different costumes every year and parents had basements full of them and so it turned into a drop box,” Sterling said.
She said that any kind of costume designed for ages six years old to 6th grade is accepted, as well as any size. Once received, the costumes are cleaned and double-checked to make sure they have all of the parts to make the costume complete.
Rachel was inspired by the children’s book “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud. The book talks about how when you do good things, good feelings are put in your bucket. Then-6-year-old Rachel wanted to do good things for people and wanted to give toys to kids whose parents could not afford them.
Let’s Help Kids continuously partners with nonprofits, schools, churches, and other third-party advocates to help kids “be kids”.
“This is very important to her and she has made it clear to me that we are expanding into different states,” Sterling said.
Rachel explained that one of the first costumes Let’s Help Kids ever gave was a Spider-Man costume, and up until that point, she never realized that some children couldn’t buy costumes because of financial restraints.
“Every kid should be able to experience the fun of going out with their friends to go trick-or-treating,” Rachel said. “I LOVE being able to shop for costumes every year. Being able to give that to kids and their families feels really, really good!”