Junior League of the Emerald Coast helps clothe area children

Shelby Desoto
The kids get to pick out their own clothes from the participating Target in Destin.

The Junior League of the Emerald Coast (JLEC) was able to provide clothing to 330 children thanks to the league’s annual Child Clothing Project.

The project selects children from Okaloosa and Walton County elementary schools, based on students who receive free or reduced-price lunch from the school.

JLEC President Carly Harmer said the project was started in 1978 and is held over a two-day period in October.

“We are giving these children a wardrobe to ensure that they are properly dressed during the winter months,” said Harmer. “We are also working towards enabling them to not have to worry about wearing the same outfit to school every day or wearing clothes that are too small or too big to school.”

Packed school busses drop off the eager children at the Target in Destin where racks of clothing have been selected for the children to shop through, as well as shoes, socks and other essentials they may need.

Harmer added that many of the kids have never experienced getting to pick out their own new clothes before, and that the parents have expressed their gratitude for helping them in a time of need.

Some of the children hop off the bus not dressed for the fall and winter months, lacking proper clothing like socks, underwear and sweaters, said Harmer, who noted that many have to wear the items they bought that day.

“Some of them have never been to Destin or Target. It’s such an emotional day for everyone, and some kids have even said, ‘this is the best day of my life,’” said Harmer.

Harmer mentioned that while the children get a new pair of shoes, all the shoe boxes are recycled. But one child wanted to keep his shoebox.

“He was adamant about keeping the shoebox. He said he never had a new pair of shoes before and wanted to keep them in the box,” she said.

Members are given a list of the items the children need, but the league recognizes that the kids enjoy getting to pick out their own clothes.

“We (JLEC) want the children to be able to focus on their education and grow a healthy self esteem and we want to remove some of the burden off of their parents who are trying to provide the necessities in life such as a home, power, water, and food,” Harmer said.

JLEC members, the public and local businesses help donate to the project, as well as funding from events held throughout the year like Rock the Roads, Derby Party, Best of the Emerald Coast and others.

“The main reason we focus so much of our time, money, and energy on Child Clothing is because a huge part of our mission is improving communities. I think the Child Clothing Project does a lot to meet that goal,” Harmer said.

The project is more like a festival, said Harmer, adding that local fire departments and police volunteer, providing educational games and activities for the children involved.

Harmer said the JLEC plans to increase the number of donation closets at schools and non-profits to reach more children in need.

The JLEC also has plans to research year round projects that have a “similar impact” as the Child Clothing Project says Harmer.

To make a donation to the JLEC or to the Child Clothing Project, visit The JLEC office is located on 12 Miracle Strip Pkwy in Fort Walton Beach.