“A B C, easy as 1 2 3” – to an eight year old, that means “let’s party!” A video set to the snappy song by 1960s boy-band, The Jackson 5, features snapshots of smiling children shopping for back-to-school clothes at Mervyns. The video, posted on the popular video sharing website, YouTube, unknowingly documents a last hurrah for the Redding Lions Club and other charitable organizations that have relied on the generous donations of this major retailer to outfit needy children.
Joining an ever-growing list of failing businesses, the October 17 announcement that Mervyns had decided to call it quits was disappointing but not surprising to employees or consumers, as the retailers financial problems have been in the news for months, with the corporation deciding to change their bankruptcy filing from Chapter 11 to 7, which translates to: close the doors, liquidate the inventory, and attempt to repay creditors – which in Mervyns’ case is $465 million.
Mervyn Morris opened his first department store in 1949 with the goal of filling the needs of young families. “We were targeting Joe the Plumber,” said Morris in a statement concerning the decisions to close all 149 stores, 129 of which are in California.
Morris’ mission was clear: Mervyns department store would be instrumental in giving back to the community through volunteerism and donations in order to improve the lives of children and their families. The company supported more than twenty non-profit organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and The United Way. Over the years, Morris, who no longer has ownership the company, has seen the store make good on that promise.
After getting a wake-up call that the local Mervyns would be closing, Donna Cummings, Yuba County Probation Officer at Mary Covillaud Elementary in Marysville, began looking for another retailer to commit to helping meet the clothing needs of its students for next year.
Schools like Covillaud are doing their best to reach the whole child, believing that children cannot learn properly if their basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing, have not been met.
Of the 463 students at Covillaud Elementary, 80% qualify for the government’s free or reduced lunch program, which means that their families are living at or below the poverty line. Unfortunately, when a family is struggling to put food in its children’s mouths, proper clothes for school are not even a consideration. “We have to first take care of their needs,” states school principal Doug Eschman.
Cummings told about one third-grade student who was habitually late for school, and no amount of coercion seemed to change his behavior. The probation officer finally asked him to tell her the truth about why he would not cooperate and get to school on time. Did he need an alarm clock? “No,” he replied, “I sit and watch for the cockroaches to come out of my shoes.”
Both Eschman and Cummings agree that it takes community effort to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children, and that the community of Marysville has continually stepped up to the challenge. Since Eschman became principal in 1996, an estimated 1,500 to 1,600 students have been outfitted with school clothes at no expense to their families.
Relying on local organizations’ events, like the annual Board of Realtors Golf Tournament and the Kiwanis Club’s Italian Night, to do the fundraising has been the key.
Each August, a number of these organizations have partnered with Mervyns for their back-to-school Child Spree, an event in which children are given $100 to spend on back to school supplies. When coupled with discounted and donated merchandise, students leave the store with an entirely new wardrobe for the school year.
Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs have joined with Mervyns since the event’s inception to help with fundraising, as well as chaperoning the event – in some cases even serving breakfast as a kickoff to the duds-fest.
In 2006 the Kiwanis Club of Marysville raised $2,300 for Child Spree, according to Debbie Hopking, club president.
Eschman added that Mervyns has been a major contributor to Covillaud’s Christmas party, supplying hundreds of children with additional clothes and gifts, even throwing in rolls of wrapping paper.
The efforts have paid off in education, says Eschman, as 71% of his students are now considered proficient, a success he attributes to meeting their basic needs first.
In the sixteen years that Mervyns has sponsored Child Spree, over $18 million in clothes, shoes and backpacks have been given to more than 180,000 school-aged children, according to mervyns.com.
The staff at Covillaud has seen first-hand what the “basic needs” philosophy can do to help their students succeed and have determined to stay the course until a replacement business steps forward to fill the need that Mervyn’s met. “I’ve put in calls to Kohls, Target and WalMart,” said Cummings, but as of this interview she had not yet received a commitment from anyone.
The closing of one of Marysville’s few retail stores is disappointing for many reasons, but much greater for those who were recipients of its generosity.
To find out how you can help with Covillaud’s Christmas Party contact the school office at 741-6121.