Ciara Stanke and her helpers unload boxes of new children’s clothing to be donated to CiCi’s Caring Closet at McLane Children’s Hospital in Temple.

One by one the boxes are carried into a meeting room to be sorted by size.

Colorful articles of children’s clothing ranging in size from infant to junior-plus are removed from the boxes and placed on the tables, waiting to be transferred to the bins in the closet named for the young volunteer. More than $3,700 worth of new clothing was donated to replace a child’s clothing that must be removed when a child comes into the emergency department.

Child Life Specialist Ashley Hobbs said children come into the ER daily with trauma, sometimes multiple times during the day.

“Sending a child of trauma home with new clothing is very important,” Hobbs said. “Lots of kiddos come in for trauma or abuse, or even a broken arm, and have to get their clothes taken off. For a child, ER is a scary place. Clothes are a safety net. We have these clothes for them so they don’t have to go home in a bloody shirt. It’s better to give them a Ninja Turtle shirt, something colorful, to make them smile.”

And it’s not just the ER nurses calling for new clothes. Floor nurses call for the clothes as well if a child soils his or her clothing.

Hobbs said the clothing drive increased the inventory “exponentially.”

“We would run out of sizes,” she said. “Now we have sizes for all ages. This is amazing.”

Stanke is the youngest member on the Teen Advisory Board at McLane Children’s Hospital in Temple. The Advisory board helps make decisions about how to keep the youthful patients comfortable during their stay, and raise funds for needed equipment and supplies.

She was 12, and already a veteran volunteer, when she became the board’s historian (her sister Caitlin, is the president). Last March, after one of the TAB meetings, she overheard two ER nurses talking about the clothes they purchased for a little girl because the closet didn’t have her size.

When Stanke learned of this need she went to work.

She asked Nurse Jaylee Hilliard about the discussion and Hilliard told her about the closet and why it was needed.

When Stanke, a freshman Belle, shared her thoughts with her friend and mentor, Cynthia Clark, the Community Service Chair for the Wildflower Belles, Clark suggested a Halloween Bash clothing fundraiser for the closet. The admission price: One new article of clothing.

“That was all she talked about for weeks,” said her mother, Misty Stanke-Smith. “She made a business plan which started with a list of contacts at the hospital to get started.”

“I wanted to get more knowledge on it (fundraising), how it worked,” Stanke said.

She met with Ellen Hansen, chief nursing officer and CEO, and asked her who worked with fundraising. Hansen introduced her to Rachel Clark, foundation director for the hospital, and the idea of the clothing drive was born.

“It was all up to her,” said Rachel Clark, about plans for the clothing drive.

Stanke, a lifelong Girl Scout, had a hard time getting people to call her back about the project. “I wasn’t taken seriously at first,” she said. “When I got in touch with some people through the Girl Scouts, Rachel started getting some feedback of what to do.”

On Oct. 29, Stanke hosted the first Halloween Bash Clothing Drive at the Ralph Wilson Youth Center. Community leaders, local businesses, family, friends and the Wildflower Belles all stepped in to help. Stanke coordinated the event; she and her mom made all of the signs, and game booths to entertain the children. The booths were staffed by volunteers from the Belles.

“The Wildflower Belles is a big part of growing as a person, having a social life,” said Stanke, a freshman Belle. “Just doing things for other people has taught me things I need to know.”

Understanding trauma

The idea for a clothing drive came from Stanke’s own experience with trauma.

She was 8 years old when she had an accident that landed her in the ER with dirty and bloody clothes. It was while playing kickball with her sister, Caitlin, on the family’s land where her parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle each had their own home just hundreds of yards away from one another.

She was wearing slippery bottom shoes and during one of the moves she slid head-on into a piece of rebar that was sticking out from the rear of a flatbed truck on the property, embedding the piece of metal partially into her forehead. Fortunately, it didn’t go all the way through her skull — she knew it could have been worse.

When she realized what happened, she pulled herself away from the bar and was taken to the hospital where she received 21 stitches in her forehead and sustained nerve damage in her left eye; she has to wear a contact lens in that eye now. She was treated, stitched up and sent home, still in the dirty and bloody clothes she came in with, and missing one shoe.

“I didn’t want to see other children have to go through that,” she said.

A philanthropic heart

Stanke was 5 when she experienced her first volunteer service when her Daisy Scout Troop was working at a food pantry drive where “they let me sort cans.”

“I love to sort. If you give me a pile of change, I don’t want the change. I want to sort the pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters,” said Stanke, an avid coin collector.

Her resume — just for 2016 — is four pages and covers her school co-curricular activities, leadership positions, service activities, community involvement, work experience, recognitions, awards and hobbies.

She is an honors student taking pre-advanced placement classes because she “loves classes that make me disciplined enough to know what to do.” She studied algebra in the eighth grade so she could take geometry her freshman year at high school. “I like to challenge myself in learning new things,” she said.

Her insatiable curiosity about life is inspired by her mother’s stories about how hard her grandparents worked at their professional careers, limiting them to any outside opportunities.

“She pushed me to have those opportunities,” she said. “It was eye-opening. You can do something to make a difference even if it’s just a small piece of the puzzle to fit a hole in the (larger) puzzle, so long as you do something to make a difference.”

Stanke said she wants to be a philanthropist when she graduates from college, and she is well on her way. Some of her other volunteer activities include making sandwiches at Feed My Sheep; preparing and delivering meals with Meals on Wheels; and helping to pack 500 backpacks with food for kids who get their daily meals through their school’s lunch program, but may not have food to carry them through the weekend.

“I remember it was so fun,” she said, about filling the backpacks. “When they told us we were finished, I was looking for my next challenge in volunteering.”

She didn’t have to look far.

The Teen Advisory Council at McLane Children’s Hospital was raising money for the McLane Innovation Fund that donates dollars toward the hospital’s greatest needs. Their goal was $18,800 to purchase a Blanketrol and a vein finder. Through fundraisers at local businesses, and the Children’s Miracle Network, the board raised $26,451, enough to purchase the needed equipment, plus extras.

“We looked at the numbers for the group. Most kids would say, ‘OK, we raised $25,451, let’s go home.’ Instead, Ciara said, ‘This is a good thing. But I want to do more.’” So she decided to do the clothing closet,” Rachel Clark said.

Stanke said she hopes to hold three clothing drives a year, including the Halloween Bash.

“She has so much going on,” Rachel Clark said. It’s amazing that she has the heart to keep‑ collecting donations through the Teen Advisory Council.”

Catherine Hosman is editor of Tex Appeal Magazine. Contact her at or 54-501-7511.

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