Introduction: Laura Hahn, Director of Communications at Cocotree Kids, has an abundance of knowledge about the importance of underwear for underserved children. As you will see in her post below, this is a very real problem that Cocotree is working to solve.
The population of underserved children in the United States is growing each year. And in our efforts to help these children with food, clothing and shelter, there is still often a critical need left unmet: underwear. While it may seem like a small necessity, underwear plays a vital role in a child's health, comfort, and self-esteem.
The issue of unequal access to underwear is not a new one. However, it has received little attention compared to other issues, such as food insecurity and homelessness. This is partly because underwear is not a visible need, and people are often uncomfortable discussing it. Yet, the lack of access to underwear is a real problem that affects many children in the United States, and it is time to start talking about it.
Underwear: The Forgotten Problem
Underwear is a basic necessity of life, but it is something that many children in the United States lack. While most of us take clean and comfortable underwear for granted, for many families, especially those living in or near the poverty line, it is a luxury they simply cannot afford.
While it may not seem like a pressing issue to some, not having access to clean underwear causes children to face unnecessary hardship, embarrassment, and even health issues like skin irritation or infections. Their harsh reality is reusing soiled underwear, wearing hand-me-downs that don’t fit properly, or just going completely without it.
Since underwear is a hidden layer, it is treated as “out of sight out of mind.” However, children very much feel the absence of it. It provides their first layer of support and comfort that cannot be replaced. Oftentimes children without underwear access do not want to play outside because they feel exposed and embarrassed.
Underwear Can Be a Costly Expense for Some Families
Underwear should be replaced at least once a year to keep up with a growing child. Families facing financial hardship may not have the ability to provide their children with underwear that properly fits.
Easy access to laundry facilities is yet another factor in this forgotten need for underserved children. Imagine a child who is potty training or is menstrual-aged. Children in these situations have few options when it comes to having clean underwear, which is absolutely mortifying.
Why Underserved Children Have an Underwear Need
Underwear insecurity is especially prevalent among children who face financial instability, displacement from their homes, and other crisis situations. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 38 percent of children under the age of 18 in the United States live in low-income families, meaning that they live between 100-200 percent below the federal poverty level.
These families often struggle to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Underwear, though grouped with clothing, is treated separately and is not as pressing for many families struggling to make ends meet, since food and shelter take priority.
Outer clothing items, shoes, and toys are easily donated by others, allowing for greater accessibility. However, underwear is often excluded from these donations because it must be newly purchased or donated unworn for hygienic purposes. This is why underwear is one of the most needed but least donated items to shelters and youth-focused organizations. This is what makes underwear a forgotten need for underserved children across the U.S.
What Solutions Are Available for Children in Need of Underwear?
While there are many organizations in the United States that tackle clothing insecurity, there seem to be only a handful that specifically deal with providing underwear for kids—Cocotree Kids being one of them.
Cocotree Kids is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded two years ago during the pandemic. Led by three mothers, when they found out about the vast need for children’s underwear, they felt compelled to do something about it. Their mission is to ensure that every child has access to new underwear for each day of the week.
What started off as a neighborhood drive for undergarments grew to an organization that is on track to distribute 90,000 pairs of children’s underwear in 2023 to almost 13,000 kids across the state of Massachusetts. While they currently only distribute underwear in MA, their plan is to expand across New England and eventually across the nation.
Lucky & Me has partnered with Cocotree Kids to regularly donate unused, quality underwear to children in need. Lucky & Me creates super comfortable and sustainable kids wear, and all of their clothing is ethically made and crafted from the finest quality materials. Likewise, their donations are environmentally responsible since they are being donated to kids who need underwear, versus ending up in a landfill. Since 2022, Lucky & Me has donated over 7,000 pairs of new underwear to Cocotree Kids and is committed to strengthening their partnership through these donations and bringing awareness to children’s underwear insecurity.
What can I do to help underserved children and this forgotten need?
The problem of underwear insecurity seems unending, but there’s still so much we can do. Here are three easy and effective ways to help:
1. Host an Underwear Drive
People are always surprised to hear about our mission because no one ever thinks about the need for underwear—but once they do, they totally get it! We need people to spread the word about us and hosting an underwear drive is the best way to do this. Not only are you educating people about underwear insecurity, they are able to do something about it by purchasing underwear and tangibly contributing to a solution. You can get started by contacting us here.
2. Send us underwear off our Amazon Wishlist
No matter where you live, you can still donate underwear! We have an Amazon Wishlist that has the sizes and types we need the most. It’s quick and easy and gets sent directly to us.
Monetary donations are the easiest and most effective way to help Cocotree Kids, as we have relationships with manufacturers to order the exact sizes and quantities that are being requested of us at a fraction of retail prices. This ensures that each dollar is fully utilized and enables us to grow our organization to the next stage. Even though Cocotree Kids is slated to distribute 90,000 pairs of underwear this year, we still have so many requests that we cannot yet fill. We need your help to tackle this simple, but massive issue that affects millions of children across the country.
It's more than just underwear—it’s a child’s dignity, comfort, and confidence. One small piece of fabric can make a big difference and we urge you to join us on this journey.