How a Va. woman’s nonprofit helps kids she never meets

A Prince William County woman has launched a nonprofit called Boxes of Basics, which gives clothing to kids in need.

Boxes of Basics helps pair donated clothes with students in need.

Courtesy Sarah Tyndall

A Boxes of Basics volunteer.

Courtesy Sarah Tyndall

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

Courtesy Sarah Tyndall

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

The woman needed clothes for her kids. So Tyndall, a stay-at-home mom at the time, began collecting clothing from friends in her neighborhood.

Quickly, Tyndall said, she had collected enough clothes to fill up her SUV several times. She observed that the donations were high-quality — in some cases, nicer clothes than those she buys her 7- and 9-year-old sons. She admired the desire of those around her to get involved and donate.

Seeking donations as a favor encouraged Tyndall to consider other ways to give back, and served as the motivation behind Boxes of Basics, a nonprofit she launched from her basement in 2018. The organization works with school social workers and other community groups to provide seasonal clothing items to kids in need.

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

“What I love about Boxes of Basics is 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’s working their rear end off and just not making enough to provide basics for their kids. We help a variety.”

At night, Tyndall started brainstorming, working to apply for her 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and determining the best ways to distribute the clothes. The goal from the onset, she said, was to figure out a way to package items so “I’m not giving them a trash bag of used clothes.”

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

Now, the group has transitioned from the basement to a new location in Old Town Manassas.

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

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

Tyndall hired the nonprofit’s first part-time staffer in the spring, and still isn’t paying herself, she said.

When it’s time for boxes to be packed, volunteers get information about a child’s sizes and individual circumstances. Every outfit is wrapped and labeled, and each box has 15 to 20 packages of clothing “that are new to them, in great condition, and that were selected just for them,” Tyndall said.

The boxes include school clothes, a “dress-up or Sunday-best outfit,” two sets of pajamas, a pack of new underwear, socks, shoes, a winter coat, hat, gloves and a scarf, if the group has them. They also always include a dental kit — which features a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss — and an age-appropriate book.

Volunteers include written notes with each box, even though they don’t meet the recipients. Some 80% of referrals come through school social workers, Tyndall said, and those who request the box serve as the intermediary between the group and the child. Once a box is packed and ready to be delivered, the organization notifies whoever made the referral.

“I never meet the students,” Tyndall said. “I never see the students. What keeps me going is the feedback that we get.”

In one case that 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 baby-sized socks. In his box, the boy got new shoes and a seasonal wardrobe. The social worker said he ran around in excitement, and was no longer in pain.

In a similar instance, a social worker said a second-grade student didn’t have clothes that fit. So he received a box with new clothing, and his mom said that while he didn’t like going to school before, he felt confident and woke up 30 minutes early every day after his wardrobe was upgraded.

“Giving somebody a warm winter coat or a new pair of shoes is a small thing in my mind, but a large thing in a child’s mind who is struggling,” Tyndall said.

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

More information about Boxes of Basics is available online.

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