What formerly served as a quiet reading space in a working class family's home in Rock Island has turned into a communal closet for school-age females across the Quad-Cities.
Under the name, Maddie’s Closet, mother-daughter duo Kelly and Madison Cook first reached out to the community last month on Facebook, and within a few weeks, donations began piling up on their doorstep.
On Friday, the Cooks will open up their living room-turned-showroom to girls (kindergarten through high school), who can pick out new wardrobes and whatever else they need before the school year starts. Everything in stock, including clothes, shoes, fashion accessories and hygiene products, will be free for the taking.
“We know how hard it can be for families to make sure their kids have the clothes, shampoo and other basic needs when they’re going through rough times,” said Kelly, a 32-year-old mother of five. “We’re all just one job loss away or one horrific accident away from losing everything.”
For safety reasons, the Cooks did not list their address on Facebook, so those who want to get involved — on both the giving and receiving ends of the operation — can message Maddie's Closet for directions.
At this point, Kelly said they could use more apparel in sizes 5T to 10.
And more room for that matter.
“I have bags and bags of clothes still downstairs that have been donated that I just don’t have space for anymore,” said Kelly, who grew up in Virginia and met her husband, Travis, there. "This grew so much faster than we ever expected.”
She credits a $20 advertisement she purchased on Facebook for spreading the word. The post published on July 3 since has been shared almost 350 times.
Although she may feel a little overwhelmed, Kelly has a vision for Maddie's Closet.
She launched a GoFundMe page on Monday with a goal of raising $1,200 to apply for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Additionally, she hopes to acquire a truck or a bus in the near future and run a boutique on wheels.
“We want to go to the schools, so kids don’t have to worry about coming to us,” Kelly said. "It will be one less gap we have to worry about filling between us and them.”
If students need help in Muscatine, for example, "... we’ll do what we can to serve them," she added.
Five years ago, the Cooks moved to the Quad-Cities, where Travis grew up. He works for the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 25 in Rock Island, and Kelly is studying to be a youth minister.
"I’ve really felt drawn to doing stuff for youth lately, and with four girls of my own, this really just fit in," she said.
Heading into seventh grade at Quad-Cities Christian School in Moline, Madison, or Maddie, also helped inspire her mother's mission.
The 12-year-old has shown an early interest in helping underprivileged populations.
When they encounter panhandlers around town, Kelly noted, her daughter always tries to give them a bit of pocket change or food.
"I just think it's the right thing to do," said Madison, the oldest of the Cooks' children. "I see people who will just drive by them and not even look out the window to see that they're there."
Respect for privacy
Although Maddie's Closet has not yet had its official opening, the Cooks already accommodated at least one girl at their home.
Jessica Hankins, a counselor at Mid City High School in Davenport, made an appointment earlier this month to take one of her former students there.
The recent graduate needed a specific type of pants for a job shadow position this summer, and the Cooks had just what she was searching for.
"It's great that girls will have a place to go at no cost to them," said Hankins, who commended Kelly for her compassion. "I’ll be accessing it a lot for my students."
While she doesn't require visitors to fill out any extensive paperwork, Kelly will ask them to sign in, list their phone number and specific needs — information that she stressed will remain private.
"I don't need to hear your backstory," she said. "We just want to make sure they know it's not a one-time thing; they're welcome back here continuously."
Kelly plans to host at least one open house a week. Regular shoppers can drop by once every two weeks.
As for the quality of the goods, she called their collection "very nice."
"We've hit the jackpot with the stuff that people have brought to us," Kelly said, reeling off various brands they carry.
A target of bullying during her middle school and high school days, she hopes this effort empowers young girls.
"It wasn't that I ever had less of anything, but people made me feel like I had less than they had, so I don't ever want other kids to feel that way," she said. "If we hit the right girls, it could change their future."