Anticipating students’ needs with Cradles to Crayons

One of City Connects’ longstanding community partners is Cradles to Crayons, a nonprofit that collects new and nearly new clothes and distributes them to children in need. The organization has worked with City Connects for more than nine years.

In the fall of 2017, Cradles to Crayons reached out to City Connects and asked us to help out with a pilot program that they had in mind. Cradles to Crayons wanted to achieve a higher level of services by creating a new, seasonal delivery schedule for its KidsPacks – the bags full of clothes, coats, shoes, boots, books, and school supplies. The organization wanted to launch the program in City Connects schools, building on our existing relationship.

The pilot started at the beginning of this school year. In close coordination with our Coordinators, it serves more than 100 students across five Boston public schools. Students receive a back-to-school backpack with school supplies in September — and three more deliveries during the year containing clothing for fall, winter, and spring.

The goal of having these predictable deliveries is to create a system that’s better able to anticipate families’ needs and reach more students.

Anna Hamilton and Quang Tran have been studying this new approach. Both are first-year Ph.D. students in the counseling psychology program at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

“Quang and I volunteered with Cradles to Crayons so that we could see their warehouse and see their process,” Hamilton says. They were given order forms and used them to assemble KidPacks.

“We then went into each of the schools and interviewed the coordinators to see how they experienced the new program,” Tran adds. “It was an opportunity for us to go hear from the people, instead of just seeing the data.”

They asked what was going well – and what the challenges were.

“We got see both sides of the process,” Hamilton adds.

“The inception and the delivery,” Tran notes.

Here’s some of what they learned.

To come up with a list of families who need KidPacks, coordinators consult with principals and teachers who see which students don’t have winter attire.

The pilot program’s main benefit? It works on a large scale. Even coordinators who have had Cradles to Crayons in their schools before say that they can reach more students because of the delivery system. In the past, some coordinators had to pick up the KidPacks themselves.

The children are excited about the clothes they receive, and parents are grateful for the help.

Hamilton and Tran have also found challenges. One is how to get the KidPacks home, how to do this while protecting students’ privacy, and how to do it in the winter when deliveries of winter coats and boots make the packs particularly heavy. When parents can’t come and pick up the clothes, coordinators come up with creative solutions such as breaking up the packs and sending smaller amounts of clothes home over a number of days.

“The coordinators use their own judgement to make it work,” Tran says.

“And that’s what we’re making note of, all of their different processes and the challenges they’re facing,” Hamilton says of their research, which will help improve future efforts.

For City Connects, this research is a crucial part of learning more about how we can work with our community partners to increase the scale of what we can do for children and their families.

In the future, this qualitative research will be supplemented with quantitative research so that we can learn more about outcomes of the Cradles to Crayons expansion.

Our goal is to provide more support and more effective support to ensure that students have what they need to thrive.

4 thoughts on “Anticipating students’ needs with Cradles to Crayons”

  1. Cradles to Crayons has been a great partnership in the Springfield Public Schools as well. Each winter our Parent and Community Engagement Center receives a large shipment of winter coats & I am sure to always reach out for a supply for my students.

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