Raina Kennedy has always loved Halloween.Since she was a little girl, growing up in Staten Island, New Jersey, with eight brothers and sisters, she has eagerly anticipated this time of the year.
Her favorite costume was a mermaid that she made at the age of 11.
“I remember most the fun we had getting ready to go out: Finding the costume and pulling it together with my brothers and sisters,” Kennedy said. “The late nights of trick-or-treating with a pillow case cover was another highlight.”
Now, she helps other families find just the right costume for their child.
“It is so much fun to dress up and create,” said the 37-year-old Camas mom of three. “My kids and I love playing with costumes.”
Kennedy has taken that love one step further, opening a lending room of costumes in her home, in various sizes and themes, year-round.
Anyone is welcome to come in, by appointment, and borrow costumes for their children or themselves.
The only thing Kennedy requests is that the costume is returned in good condition, in a reasonable time period. She also encourages donations.“Most people will just give costumes to Goodwill,” she said. “But this is also goodwill, because it goes to someone else in the community who needs it.”
For the past seven years, Kennedy has been combing garage sales, keeping her eyes peeled for costumes.
“When I find one, it’s typically priced around $1,” she said. “Every time I see a great costume, I pick it up. I started this even before I had kids, with the idea in mind to do this someday. I knew those costumes could be reused in a better way.”
Kari Tyler knows Kennedy from a local moms club.
“I think her costume project is great,” she said. “It is incredibly generous of Raina to volunteer both her time and resources to make hundreds of costumes available to local children all for free. Not many people are willing to open their home to strangers for the purpose of lending out costumes.”
And it’s not just about Halloween either. People can borrow costumes for themed birthday parties, parades and other occasions.
“Raina is a very community minded person and has greatly enjoyed seeing children leave with a smile on their faces when they find the perfect costume,” Tyler continued.
“It has also been fun to see the response the program has received.”
She added that her friend’s generosity has motivated others to donate costumes to her program.
“My kids have borrowed and donated costumes through Raina’s program and it’s nice that they are able to participate on both levels,” Tyler said.
Although Kennedy, Tyler and other friends have exchanged costumes for the past three years, this is the first time she’s opened up her home to the community.
“It’s been fun,” she said. “I really like watching the kids come in and pick something out, and how surprised some of the parents are by the creations they put together. My emphasis here is on a gifting experience. I like that the community is finding something here that I think should be free. They don’t have to worry about it costing so much.”
Most of the time, children wear the costumes home that they picked out.
“It is really cute,” Kennedy said. “I really like the idea of this being free, with no strings attached. Dress up encourages free play and imagination. Seeing the expressions on the kids’ faces has been the best part.”
She added that the costumes can also be used for themed play dates.
“They could have a princess theme, pirate theme, Marvel theme, or something else,” Kennedy said. “It’s a good thing to be able to create without spending a lot of money.”
Kennedy added that is has been neat finding bags of donated costumes on her porch.
“People do not have to bring a costume to get one, but if they have some to donate, I appreciate it,” she said.
With Halloween just around the corner, she said the most popular costumes have been classics such as firefighter, police officer, princess and Disney characters.
“The ‘warm fuzzies’ such as bumblebees, cows and ladybugs are going fast,” Kennedy said.
On a recent stormy Wednesday afternoon, Heather Perkins of Camas and her children, Qwynn and Maddizynn, and their neighbor, Jonathan Vanhorn, stopped by.
“I think this is a great idea,” she said. “The kids only use them once a year.”
Maddizynn, 7, browsed several costume ideas.
“This is fun,” she said. “I get to look at lots of costumes.”
Added Vanhorn, as he tried on Captain America and Batman masks, “This is cool.”