Clothing Banks

Businesses seem to have lost interest in giving unsalable clothing to the needy. Recent scandals include revelations that clothing super-chains H&M and Wal-Mart punch holes in clothes they cannot sell, thus rendering them unfit for donation to charities, recent reports in the New York Times and elsewhere reveal. (H&M, in the wake of intense media coverage and general public outcry, has committed to reversing this policy.) Even the New York City Police Department departed from a long-standing tradition last summer, when it incinerated tons of counterfeit designer clothing and footwear, which in previous years it had donated to charities like the New York City Clothing Bank.

In light of this disheartening news, the ongoing work of two organizations founded and run by Jewish women is a particularly bright beacon. As reported by the City University of New York (CUNY), Edith’s Place, founded in April 2007 by Carolyn Everett, provides free business clothing to the neediest male and female CUNY students enrolled in employment opportunity programs who are embarking on job interviews or who have recently been hired. Edith’s Place stocks everything from suits to shoes and accessories, all of it new and much of it donated through Everett’s efforts, with other donations coming from local merchants. Not only do CUNY students get new clothes, they often get their own personal shopper in the form of Everett or her mother, Edith B. Everett, former CUNY vice-chair, as well as other volunteers.

Creative clothing tzedakah is fun for all ages, too — just ask the creators of Share What You Wear in Cleveland. Zoe Baris and Samantha Zabell (above, left) were sophomores in high school two years ago when they founded this now-annual event. Zabell had worked with her mother and grandmother on an adult designer clothing sale for the National Council of Jewish Women’s Cleveland chapter, which ended up serving as part of the inspiration for Share What You Wear. NCJW also helped make the match between Baris and Zabell and their target population: among the many social services that NCJW runs in the area is a kinship care program. It was through this contact that the teens connected with a county-run program focused on grandparents who are the primary caregivers for grandchildren. Particularly because the state gives less financial aid to kinship care than to foster care, families in this situation often urgently need community support. “The teens collect fashionable items from friends and neighbors in a wealthier corner of the community,” reported Cynthia Cooper in Women’s e-News, and during back-to-school shopping time each of the 165 or so children it serves “shop” with fake money for the clothes they like. Last fall the project received 5,000 items. “We get T-shirts, jeans, pants, sunglasses, dresses, skirts, suits,” Zabell told Cooper. “We take every item out and make sure it’s not stained or ripped. We don’t give them anything that we wouldn’t wear.”

And there’s more! Swap for Good is a national project where you can host a clothing swap for your friends and raise money for your local domestic violence shelter at the same time. Shelters have lost major funding during the recession, but demands for lifesaving services are on the rise. Help make a difference by hosting a Swap for Good event.