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Shop Smarts

Shop Smarts
April 2013
A design student helps Lowcountry Orphan Relief turn their donation closet into a special shopping experience for abused and neglected children

It’s no surprise that a 25-year-old interior design student spends her spare time thinking about shopping. But for Art Institute of Charleston’s Rhiannon Esposito, the belts, shoes, and accessories on her mind aren’t for her, but for the thousands of children in the Lowcountry who are displaced from their homes every year. Specifically, she’s been pondering how to take the used clothes given to Lowcountry Orphan Relief (LOR) and arrange them in a space that feels less like a donation closet and more like the retail stores in which other children shop.

For the past 11 years, LOR has provided clothing, school supplies, and toiletries to abused, abandoned, and neglected youths through its Valerie Vincent Clothing Closet in North Charleston. Supporting 63 area agencies, LOR delivers the basic necessities within 24 hours of a child’s placement in state custody, and guardians and foster parents can then shop the closet free of charge for other needed items. At times, they bring the kids with them, allowing them to select their new duds. In 2012, the organization served nearly 3,000 children—the largest number since the nonprofit’s inception.

“South Carolina is fifth in the nation for child abuse,” says LOR founder and director Lynn Young. “A child needs his or her tummy full, body clean, and basic needs met before you can work on the inside and really help him with his problems. LOR seeks to fill those needs.”

As the organization has grown, so has the necessity for storage space. This spring, LOR broke ground on a 4,000-square-foot distribution center behind their current facility. Here, donations will be displayed as if in a boutique, complete with dressing rooms. “There’s light in children’s eyes when they’re twirling in front of a mirror. It’s so much more fun for them to get new clothes in that environment,” says Young.

And that’s where Esposito comes in. She learned of the project while interning at local Swallowtail Architecture. “I really identified with LOR’s cause because my mom is a social worker and I have triplet brothers who were adopted out of foster care,” she explains. After meeting with the nonprofit’s staff, Esposito began researching and diagramming, ultimately designing portable clothing racks, colorful display shelves, and other custom storage units. “I drew my inspiration from how LOR wanted to use the space to empower the children and make them feel special,” she says.

With the June completion date nearing, LOR needs to raise the rest of the necessary funds. To lend a hand, attend Shine, Shimmer, and Shag on April 6—you’ll get a peek at the plans for what will be a dream closet for countless young locals.