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DRESS THE CHILD

Dress the Child 2020: No dinner but still raising money, planning shopping events

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Even though this year’s fundraising dinner won’t be held because of the pandemic, the Las Cruces Dress the Child program is still raising funds and making plans to buy new clothes and shoes for hundreds of needy children in Doña Ana County. And, event coordinators are asking for the community’s help this year more than ever.

“We look forward to seeing our loyal supporters at the Dress the Child dinner on the first Sunday in October 2021,” said Dress the Child Coordinator Doug Boberg, who took over chairmanship the program in 2009 and has served as co-chair with Las Cruces attorney Matt Holt since 2011. In the meantime, “there is still a critical need for new clothing and shoes for children in our community,” Boberg said. 

The 2019 Dress the Child dinner, with all the food and preparation donated by outstanding local chefs, raised about $15,000, Boberg said. That paid for new clothes and shoes for more than 150 of the nearly 540 children who received them through the program last year, he said.

Dress the Child is supported by the Rio Grande Rotary Club of Las Cruces, a host of business partners throughout the county, and individual donors throughout southern New Mexico. Participating children are selected by Las Cruces Public Schools and the Gadsden Independent School District.

Boberg said shopping events will be held this November and December at Old Navy and Kohl’s in Las Cruces. He said all state public health orders will be followed during the shopping events, which will limit the number of participating volunteers. About $100 is budgeted for each participating child, but Old Navy and Kohl’s always provide discounts which results in around $150 in clothes and shoes being provided, he said.

The seven-course meal that highlights the fundraising dinner simply wasn’t possible this year because of state public health orders in response to COVID-19, Boberg said, and because of the financial strain the pandemic has caused local restaurants.

“Restaurants were not in a position to help this year,” said Las Cruces chef Vince Campbell, who has been organizing the Dress the Child dinner chefs since 1996. “They’re having a rough time,” said Campbell, who is representative for Prime Sales and Marketing food brokerage. “We may be down,” he said, “but we’re not out. We can work with adversity. We’ve got this.”

Restaurants have donated to the Dress the Child dinner for more than three decades, Boberg said. “They’ve been so incredibly fabulous to us.”

Both Boberg and Campbell encouraged Dress the Child supporters old and new to go to a local restaurant or buy food to-go from one on Sunday, Oct. 4 – which would have been the date of this year’s fundraising dinner (or some other evening). “Have a meal and think of us, think of the kids,” Campbell said. They also encouraged donations to Dress the Child in any amount. Dress the Child dinner tickets are typically $65.

Like Boberg, Campbell said his commitment to Dress the Child is “for life.”

Dress the Child history

Las Cruces community activist Doug Rains created Dress the Child in mid-1980s, working with the local Salvation Army to provide new clothes and shoes to a couple of dozen children that first year.

The Rio Grande Rotary Club has been a major funder of the program and wonderful partner since the program’s inception, said Boberg, who is a past Rotarian.

Rains died suddenly in September 2009, just 10 days before that year’s Dress the Child dinner, and Boberg stepped in as coordinator.

“Even Doug Rains’ passing in 2009 didn’t stop the dinner from happening,” said Boberg, a digital marketing and advertising consultant who splits his time between Las Cruces and Albuquerque. “He had everything done. That was Doug Rains – he was so organized.”

In the more than 20 years the Rains coordinated the program and in the 11 years since his death, Dress the Child has provided new clothes and shoes to thousands of children in need. It provided clothes and shoes to 25 children that first year, and grew to 196 in 1997, 291 each in 1998 and 1999, 306 in 2000, 309 in 2001, 341 in 2002, 459 in 2005, 450 in 2014, 466 in 2015, 487 in 2016, 581 in 2017, 638 in 2018 and 579 in 2019.

Even with the pandemic, Boberg, co-coordinator Matt Holt, a Las Cruces attorney, and Campbell are hopeful of providing new clothes and shoes to hundreds more children this year.

“We will find a way to get clothes and shoes to children in need,” Boberg said.

One child at a time

Boberg remembers receiving a call from a third-grade teacher in Las Cruces about Dress the Child some years ago. One of the teacher’s students had two sets of clothes – one to wear to school while the other set was being washed by her mother. The child had one pair of tennis shoes but had lost one shoe and was wearing flipflops that December at the bus stop and in gym class. Dress the Child got the little girl in that year’s program, and the teacher was her volunteer escort when she went shopping.

“That really conveyed to me the incredible need and what these teachers are seeing on a daily basis,” Boberg said. His wife, Lyn, is the long-time secretary at Tombaugh Elementary School in Las Cruces. Every year, he said, children come to the school office the Monday after their shopping trip to show her their new clothes and shoes. “Miss Lyn, Miss Lyn,” they say, “look at my outfit!”

For most children in the program, it’s the first new clothes and shoes they’ve ever had, Boberg said.

Campbell’s wife, Kelly, has been an LCPS teacher for 23 years. She would often shop at garage sales to find clothes for needy children she taught. And, she still runs into young adults who remember her and the help she gave them to get clothes through Dress the Child.

Boberg also remembers a student who was preparing to graduate from a Las Cruces high school. He was homeless – sleeping on a friend’s couch. The student had a better-than 4.0 grade point average and had an interview scheduled for a Daniels Foundation scholarship but had no clothes to wear to the interview. It was the wrong time of year to get the student in the Dress the Child program, Boberg said, but the Rio Grande Rotary Club, “adopted him.” They bought the boy a suit, shirts, shoes, ties and other clothing, and one club member even offered him a place to live. The student got the Daniels scholarship, earned a medical degree at the University of New Mexico and is today a practicing physician.

Boberg also remembers a girl, 18, volunteering to be the photographer at a Dress the Child shopping event one year. She had received clothes through the program when she was 8.

“That’s how we make it better,” Campbell said, “one person at a time. You change somebody’s life.”