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Ugly Sweaters for a Beautiful Cause 

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Whether you took one from your grandmother, dug it out from a thrift store bin, or purchased one from the internet, ugly holiday sweaters have become a staple in wardrobes across the U.S. For Communities in Schools (CIS) of Kalamazoo, their annual ugly sweater party at Bell’s Eccentric Café was an opportunity to cap off the year in a fun way while thanking community partners, raising awareness for its cause, and collecting donations for the winter wear Kid’s Closet.  

While an in-person event was not possible this year, the CIS team did not want the community to miss out on the fun or chance to support kids in need, explained Development and Project Manager Felicia Lemons. “As part of the party, we would have individuals vote on their ugly sweater; it was a fun contest,” said Felicia. “Obviously, this year we couldn’t do it. So, we had to put on our thinking caps and we created a virtual edition of it.”

To engage the greater community in the effort, CIS worked with sponsors including PlazaCorp, Kalsec, and Memories Bridal & Evening Wear to set up an Ugly Sweater Contest and Display in the Exchange building. Each sweater is sponsored and created by a local company and everyone can participate in voting for the winner while also supporting the CIS cause. “A donation is essentially a vote. The sweater that has the most donations or votes will be deemed the winner,“ said Felicia. “It’s no longer limited to our community support. It’s now available to anybody in the community that wants to access it.”

The pandemic has forced CIS to shift and rethink a lot of its programming to align with safety standards. Throughout this shift, the organization has been grateful to have continued support from local sponsors. “The folks that supported us pre-COVID are equally as interested in seeing us make pivots,” said CIS Executive Director James Devers. “They haven’t just been in maintenance mode, but I would say that the business community, in particular, has seemed to be even more engaged, connected, and willing to try and find ways to support CIS, but ultimately to support the kids. To me, that’s been amazing.”

While children are not gathering in school, the need for winter gear continues to be essential, along with many other new required items like meal delivery and support for virtual learning, including counseling. “There are so many different unique needs right now that go above and beyond even just winter wear,” said Felicia. “It’s not just the tangible items, it’s some of that support system on top of that as well. We’ve heard feedback that just a simple phone call to inspire a kid to log onto their computer and to their classes is impactful as well.”

The Ugly Sweater Exhibit is now available for viewing in the Exchange Building right across from Candy Cane Lane in Downtown Kalamazoo. Vote here for your favorite sweater and learn how you can support CIS.

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