In 1990 Portsmouth Abbey infirmary nurses Pam Gorman and Nancy Weida had an idea. They wanted to organize a campus-wide charity but were not sure where to start. As luck would have it Dottie McKee, who worked in the Office of Admission at the time, had read an article about the Fall River Salvation Army's request for new winter coats for children in need at Christmas; they were calling the program Clothe-A-Child. The three women then asked each of the boys' Houses -- Aelred's, Bede's, Benet's, Hugh's and Leonard's, at that time -- if they would each sponsor one child. The students surpassed the modest ask and raised enough money through campus fundraisers to clothe 35 children, and with that, the largest and longest-standing community outreach program on campus began.
Every year since its inception Clothe-A-Child has grown. In 1991, the Abbey faculty and staff became involved, and when the school transitioned to co-education in 1992, adding more dormitories to campus, the friendly competition between the Houses spurred more creative fundraising. The operation was able to expand to include Ella Risk Elementary School in Central Falls, the Newport Salvation Army, and the Newport Boys and Girls Club Job Corp in Exeter.
Over the last thirty years, parents and alumni also provided assistance. Liz Childs '08 received a grant from her family's charitable foundation that helped cover the cost of the coats. Courtney Macomber '12 tapped her family's clothing company, Corky and Company, to provide additional coats and hats from their previous season.
During the school year, students brainstormed different ways to outraise their classmates: bake sales, coffee houses, polar-plunges into the bay, pie-in-the-face events, dances, haunted houses -- even sports tickets have been raffled off. The House that raises the most money each year has bragging rights and proudly displays the Clothe-A-Child plaque in its common room for the remainder of the school year.
Throughout the years the students have raised upwards of $10,000 per year to provide coats to children in need.
Each Black Friday, Pam and Nancy, funds in hand, shopped sales and cultivated relationships with local retailers, stretching resources to buy as many coats as possible.
When COVID-10 threw a curve ball into 2020, the school community rose to the challenge. Students and houseparents still found ways to raise money through dress-down days and socially distanced fundraisers. The total number of children clothed is 190 and total amount of money was $3,200. Coats were distributed to Fall River Salvation Army, Newport Salvation Army, Newport Boys and Girls Club, two elementary schools in Central Falls and Job Corp in Exeter.
In addition to the COVID-19 protocols that created additional work, Pam leaned on her long-standing relationships to buy coats at drastically discounted prices and was able to outfit all of the partner organizations.
Many thanks and best wishes to Pam, who officially retired from Portsmouth Abbey at the end of October; her legacy of Clothe-A-Child will live on through the generous and creative efforts of the students here at the Abbey.