By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Boston – When Lynn Margherio, the founder and CEO of Cradles to Crayons, was growing up, she and her siblings volunteered at the Festival of Trees, an annual fundraiser that Margherio’s mom helped run for the Detroit Children’s Hospital. Each year, the family’s home and garage nearly overflowed with donations. They were eventually packed into boxes, which were hauled out to and stuffed – along with Margherio and her siblings – into the cramped family car.
“But when we arrived at Cobo Hall…the excitement would set in,” Margherio recalled. “We’d join a small army of volunteers helping to transform the cavernous space into a winter wonderland, with row upon row of magical Christmas trees, each with its own theme, colorful lights and themed holiday stations. The best time was when we got to help out selling wreaths or working in the gift shop. I remember always feeling that even though I was just a kid, I’d had an important role to play; that feeling of giving back is pretty powerful.”
Although Margherio joked that she had no idea that one day she would run an organization where the “schlepping skills” she learned then would come in handy, she also hadn’t imagined that, essentially, sharing the Christmas spirit of joy, peace and love to benefit children in need wouldn’t be limited to her earliest volunteer experiences. For more than 15 years, she’s been doing so through her national nonprofit’s mission “to provide children from birth through age 12 with the everyday essentials they need to thrive – at home, at school and at play.”
In 2000, Margherio, who was then the Executive Vice President of the Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS Initiative, was inspired to start her nonprofit after spending time with her niece. She noticed all the new and gently used clothes and toys that the little girl had already outgrown. Knowing that there were many children in need, she believed that families would be happy to donate such items if it were easier to do so. So, in 2002, the Georgetown University graduate combined her business skills – from an earlier career as a business strategy consultant – and her passion for helping people in need to establish Cradles to Crayons, www.cradlestocrayons.org.
The nonprofit now serves more than 245,000 children who are living in poverty in the United States. Kids receive essentials such as warm winter coats, comfortable clothes and shoes and school supplies. They also receive books, toys and backpacks. All the items help to enable them to concentrate on getting a good education – which should help them break the cycle of poverty.
Because Margherio believes strongly in the value of volunteering, the nonprofit reaches out to youth in another way as well. It started its Teen Leadership Corps program for middle and high school students who want to become involved in community service. The kids learn leadership skills while supporting the Cradles to Crayons mission.
Margherio treasures the volunteers of all ages who assist the nonprofit in restoring hope to homeless and impoverished children.
“I get to be inspired every day by hundreds of kids and adults who volunteer to help power our mission,” Margherio said.
She added, “They roll up their sleeves in our Giving Factory warehouse, helping to inspect and sort donations, make outfits, and hand-select specific items to put into packages for individual boys and girls. Whether it’s the volunteer who comes once a year, our teen leaders, or our champions…they are making a real difference to children and families in our community.”
And Margherio, who lives outside of Boston with her husband and children, has tremendous dreams for the future.
“Our vision is that one day, every child will have the clothing and other supplies they need to thrive…” Margherio shared. “We started in Massachusetts, expanded to Philadelphia and Chicago, and our next stop is New York City. We’d like everyone to join our movement to end clothing insecurity for kids.”