NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — More than 100 men’s dress shirts, 45 huge plastic bags full of sweaters, shoes, pocketbooks and pants and 60 assorted coats, dresses and suits filled Rob McKay’s collection of clothes.
McKay, 17, of North Kingstown, is quite pleased with all these donations in his quest to help people not only have presentable clothes for a job, but perhaps even start a new life for themselves because they are employed.
“I didn’t want to give people shirts and pants to just wear them around, but something instead that could be useful. I never saw someone do a business clothing drive, so I figured there would be an excess of clothes that people would be willing to donate,” said the enterprising McKay, whose clothing drive is the centerpiece of his project to become an Eagle Scout.
“I figured people would be willing to donate them, especially if it was an Eagle Scout project,” he added, but the large number of donations that crammed his parents’ house and the generosity of people on such short notice surprised even him.
This Scout at Troop 152 has grown up volunteering for the Special Olympics in an effort to help others.
When thinking about an Eagle Scout project that needed to be focused on leadership and management, collecting clothes and helping people dress for success came naturally for the high school senior who plans to major in business in college.
Like the badge he wants to wear, he wants to help people show a mark of distinction in a job interview or while at work.
The Eagle Scout badge has become widely recognized as a mark of distinction both within and outside of Scouting. Once earned, it is worn for life. Since it was first awarded in 1912, more than two million young people – about 4 percent of Scouts – have achieved the Boy Scouts of America’s highest rank, according to a study by Baylor University in Texas.
Scouts seeking the Eagle rank must demonstrate their understanding of leadership, service, character, personal fitness and outdoor skills at multiple levels. In addition to the over 20 life skills merit badges required to earn the Eagle Scout rank, each Scout must complete an extensive self-directed service project as McKay did.
The Scout must plan, organize, lead and manage the entire service effort prior to his 18th birthday, which will be in March for McKay, a North Kingstown High School student.
“I figured I enjoyed the study of business. I think it’s much more beneficial for people to understand that working will support them,” said McKay who has been a Scout since fourth grade.
The Eagle Scout project required him to focus on a contribution to society. Both he and his parents saw the business clothes drive fit well that focus. His troop leadership had to approve the project.
The next step, he said, involved thinking through the various steps needed to launch the drive, including donors who could help. He was not allowed to purchase materials and needed also to use his leadership skills to engage other Boy Scouts to help put his plans into action.
Home Depot in North Kingstown donated four large collection boxes. In addition, local businesses JW Graham jewelry and gifts, Ocean State Community Wellness gym and fitness center and McKays Front Porch furniture and patio store, run by his uncles Keith and Kerry McKay, all set up collection points, he said.
Then he set out to find the right donation service to take clothes he collected. He chose Providence-based Dorcas International, which provides education and job readiness opportunities for individuals as well as legal services for citizenship, immigration and refugee resettlement programs.
“Once I started talking to Dorcas, I fell in love with the organization. I think what they do there is super important. Them giving the clothes back to people for free I think is a great idea,” McKay said.
His plan also tapped strategically into the neighborhoods around the businesses that offered to sponsor a collection box. Flyers were distributed to request donations, explain reasons for them and offer to pick up clothes if someone could not get to a box.
Two long-time Scouting buddies, Andrew Oldmeadow and Keiran Wilkinson, both of North Kingstown, as did other members of his troop, went to the neighborhoods to hand out information about the drive as well as pick up clothes from people calling.
“I had one lady who said she had 45 dress shirts and was willing to give them to us. I told her we’d be there right away,” McKay said with a laugh. From late November through early December clothes started filling his parents’ home.
“It was taking up my entire house. There were clothes in my closet that were folded up into bags, all over my room they were in bags, and then my entire dining room was full of bags and boxes,” he said. Hundreds, perhaps a few thousand, of items were finding their way to him.
“There was never a point in time when we were able to take apart each bag and box and count, especially with the jewelry and handbags, there was just no easy way to do that,” he added.
With the tight squeeze through the living quarters at home and the approaching Christmas holiday, getting them to Dorcas became an important mission, he said.
Two days after the collection end, he and the other Scouts filled a pickup truck’s large back bed and inside cab with boxes and bags as well as his medium-sized sports utility vehicle for the delivery to Dorcas in Providence.
At Dorcas International, Kathleen M. Cloutier, executive director, said, “It was one of our largest single donations. We very much appreciate Rob’s generosity of spirit in single-handedly pulling together a community to give of themselves in support those less fortunate in getting back on their feet.”
Her praise accents comments from the Baylor University study about Eagle Scouts in general.
Rodney Stark, Ph.D., professor of the social sciences at Baylor, said, “Compared to Scouts and non-Scouts, Eagle Scouts exhibit significantly higher levels of health and recreation, connection, service and leadership, environmental stewardship, goal orientation, planning and preparedness, and character.”
Dorcas’s Cloutier said it was possibly the first time — and hopefully may continue with other Scouts — that the organization had the opportunity to work with an Eagle Scout candidate on a project to help those in need.
It also holds the promise of continued inspiration for McKay, too, who said he saw his talents develop through his work in Scouting.
“I joined Scouts originally to be outside and be with my friends. That was when I was in grade school,” he said, looking back to an earlier time in his eight years in the Scouting program.
“Once I started doing projects and giving back to the community, that ended up being the favorite part by far,” he said.
“I think it’s a great outlet… especially when you are giving clothes to people who are in less fortunate situations then yourself. You begin to understand how lucky you are,” he said.