Have you seen the white lab-coated people hanging out at the intersection of Main Street and Drexel Avenue in Bexley? They’re there the second Saturday in December with buckets for drivers to drop in their extra change and dollar bills. Even if you haven’t noticed them in Bexley, they can be found all around Columbus on that Saturday. They call themselves Newsies and they have been around a long time—112 years— helping raise money so no child will be kept out of school for lack of adequate clothing.
A Columbus original, Charity Newsies is doing work. They provide approximately 12,000 children with brand new clothing every year. A package an applicant will receive includes: six pairs of underwear, six pairs of socks, three shirts, three pairs of pants, a winter coat, winter hat and gloves. There’s an annual kick-off auction, the sale of Hearts and other fundraising activities, along with the drive total, that brought in a jaw-dropping total of $1,438,391 last year.
How did the organization get started and what’s with the “Newsies” angle? It all started on a chilly day on Broad and High more than 100 years ago.
“Three businessmen were hanging out at Billy’s Chop House at Broad and High and noticed a boy selling papers,” says Mike Miller, the organization’s Headquarters Manager. “The businessmen took the papers from the young man and started selling and yelling out that it was for charity. From that night [in 1907], the idea of creating a charitable organization by selling papers was born, and in around 1960 is when the focus turned to clothing for school kids.”
Today, the Columbus Dispatch creates a special edition to be given out during the Drive Day.
The dollars raised are impressive, but it’s the emotional impact that is so rewarding to the over 500 volunteer members. Take Betsy Eckel, a volunteer for Charity Newsies, for example. When she first got involved, it didn’t take long for her to feel the benefits of helping out, and she fell in love instantly.
“I vividly remember the first time I volunteered in the clothing room and one kid came in and looked at the winter coats,” Eckel recalled. “He tried on the coat and looked at me and asked if he could keep the coat. The joy in his face when I told him he could keep the coat blew me away. He told me he had never had a coat with new tags on it.”
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Eckel and her best friend, and fellow volunteer, Shelby Nathans, grew up together in Bexley and were introduced to Charity Newsies at an early age. For Nathan, her father has been a member for 20 years, keeping her close to the organization as she grew up.
“I would see him on Drive Day with his buddies having so much fun and doing great things,” Nathans said. “Plus, Bexley schools are closely tied to Charity Newsies, so I was involved back then.”
Both women cite the rise in self-esteem when a child has the right clothes to wear to school. And then there’s the practical side: when kids don’t have the proper clothes, they just don’t get themselves to school.
Eckel said she knows this from first-hand experience. “When I was a teacher I saw kids not having coats and socks in the winter,” says Eckel. “Some kids would be put on the bus without proper clothes. They would have to wait at the bus stop freezing. Some parents would choose to keep the kids home. Attendance really suffered.”
The Newsies tend to trend older—a point both Nathans and Eckel make and would like to see change. For Eckel, it’s simple: she wants young volunteers to experience what she has experienced.
“When people stop to donate during that second Saturday in December one of the most rewarding things to hear is, ‘You helped me when I was a kid. I will never forget it. I have the ability to do something and I want to give back.’ ”
To get involved with the Charity Newsies, visit charitynewsies.org.