It started with a casual conversation between Children’s Center of the Cumberlands Executive Director Kellie Walker and a TN Dept. of Children’s Services investigator. And, within just days, an impressive charitable organization was born to help clothe Scott County’s abused and neglected children who are removed from their home.
The name of the effort is Kip’s Kloset — named in memory of Kip McCoy Walker, Dustin and Kellie Walker’s newborn son who passed away on his birthday in May. Less than 10 weeks later, most would forgive Walker — who, along with her husband, owns The Beautique Tanning & Essentials in addition to serving as the Children’s Center’s executive director — if she were still mourning the tragic loss of her son. After all, it’s only been a couple of weeks since she returned to work after taking some time off to emotionally heal.
“The week I went back was supposed to be the week that my maternity leave actually started,” Walker said recently. “Going back for me was hard because it was taking another step toward my new ‘normal.’ A life continued without a son that we had planned our lives around for the past year.”
But Walker isn’t one to be still very long, even in a trying time. As Jonathan Orick of Engineered Fitness said last week, “If you’re blessed enough to know Kellie Walker, you know one of the kindest people in our community.”
So, it probably should have been no surprise when Walker’s casual conversation with a DCS case worker about how to help the less fortunate children of Scott County quickly turned into an effort to put words into action.
By July 30, Walker had made a Facebook post to appeal to her friends and neighbors to help. And the community responded in a big way.
During that conversation that jump-started the effort, the DCS investigator mentioned that kids who are being taken into custody by the state need clothes — and there aren’t enough clothes to meet the need.
“We see first-hand, babies come out of homes in only diapers and often times when kids are removed they have on filthy clothes, usually too small or too big, and they have limited clothes to take into their new home placement,” Walker said.
Up until this point, the Children’s Center has given Walmart gift cards to DCS so that case workers can purchase kids new clothes or whatever they need when they’re removed from an abusive or neglectful home.
But coronavirus has changed things. Walmart is no longer open 24 hours; the retail store closes at 10 p.m. each night.
“When kids are removed in the middle of the night, they are at a loss,” Walker said. “She spoke about how nice it would be to just be able to grab stuff after they are showered at the center.”
From there, Walker’s wheels began to turn. Before long, she’d come up with a plan to renovate a vacant office into a clothing closet to help meet the need. She enlisted her husband to help her, and a plan came together.
“With COVID, we haven’t taken clothing donations that are used, so I knew it would have to be stocked with new items,” Walker said. “Plus, just being honest, I wanted the clothes to be new for the kids. Most have never had one article of clothing that was new with tags still on it and I felt like that in itself would be a gift and something special for them.”
But there’s another issue that threatened to compound things: due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Children’s Center’s fundraising efforts and donations have been down significantly. The child advocacy center’s most visible fundraiser, the annual Nancy Swain Watters Memorial Walk in the spring, was canceled due to the pandemic.
“I had no clue how I was going to stock this closet,” Walker said. “But I knew if we built it, the donations would come.”
That’s where her husband, Dustin, came in. And on the way home from picking up building materials for the renovation project, the Walkers came up with an idea: a giveaway, where every person who donates clothing is entered into a drawing for a prize.
Walker made the plea for prizes, and within just minutes, “I had so many friends with businesses in our community who had donated to the gift basket to give away,” she said. “So much so that we have enough now for more than one awesome giveaway.”
The donations began to come in as soon as Walker made a post on her Facebook page. And then it just kept getting better. During their weekly Facebook Live episode Saturday evening, sisters Gabby and Milly Hill of Soul Sisters mentioned the Children’s Center closet and encouraged those who could give to do so. They also urged those who wanted to donate but didn’t want to shop to give a monetary donation that would help fill the gaps. They started the effort by donating a $100 gift card of their own for the prize drawing.
“Long story short, at the end of that live show where she was on there to sell her shop’s items, they had over $7,000 that people had committed to help us fill the closet with clothes and to help us keep it stocked,” Walker said.
The Hill sisters will invoice their customers for their donation when they invoice them for items that were purchased from Soul Sisters.
“It was truly an emotional thing to be a part of, and God’s grace was shining bright through that Live show,” Walker said.
It was also during that Soul Sisters Facebook Live show that Walker announced the clothes closet would be named in memory of her son.
This is the challenge: before August 17, donate an article of clothing that is new with tags and your name will be entered to win a gift. For every article of clothing that is donated, your name goes in the pot another time. The more clothes you buy, the better chance you have of winning a gift basket. Sizes 0-3 months all the way through XXL adult are needed — both boys and girls clothes, along with pajamas, socks and underwear.
Those who donate will have a chance to win a $300 gift card to Wilderness of the Smokies, a $100 gift card to The Skin Care Clinic, a $50 gift card from Scott County Florest, a large pizza from Baby J’s Pizza, a 4-pack of passes and more from Brimstone Recreation, a $50 Visa gift card from STAND, two months free tanning and a lotion from The Beautique, a $50 gift card from Angel Blessings Boutique, a $100 off coupon to Arch Angels Microblading, a $100 gift card from Soul Sisters, a $30 gift certificate from RaeZack’s, a $25 gift certificate from Perfecting Beauty, a $100 gift certificate from Engineered Fitness, a $25 gift certificate from The Vinyl Boutique, a $50 Texas Roadhouse giftcard from Chitwood Mountain Farms, a $25 gift certificate from Mike’s Station, a $30 gift certificate from C&C Customized Vinyl, and a $30 gift certificate from Bee Clever Cookies.
The drawing will take place on Monday, August 17.
Walker said she was overwhelmed by the response.
“So many people have showed up in such a huge way,” she said.
It started with Trent Coffey, executive director of STAND.
“I asked him for a donation of a gift card and he opened his wallet personally, as well as STAND’s,” she said. “Scott County Florist (James and Penny Paul) was the same way. I asked for an item, and they gave, but they also gave personally to help us keep it going.
“I know we say it all the time, how great our community is, but I was awestruck, and I still am, on how when there is a need, in this case for children who are taken into custody with absolutely nothing, the community shows up,” Walker said.