DISTRICTWIDE — Some people have closets bursting with clothes, be they’re last season’s leftovers or gifts that never quite fit.
Jake Wachtel and Suzanne Goldman wish they had that problem.
The duo began a nonprofit called Threads that takes gently used or new clothes and gets them to local people in need, and the Santa Monica and Malibu communities have backed them up.
The concept was born last year when Wachtel’s daughter, a third grader at Grant Elementary at the time, noticed a boy who came to school in the same clothes every day.
They later discovered that the boy was homeless. As Wachtel and his daughter walked through the school, they passed by the lost and found, which was packed with discarded clothing fated for donation — and possibly resale — to a charity.
It occurred to Wachtel that was one step too many between the clothes and those that need them.
“Why are all of these clothes going to Goodwill when you can clothe children in our schools?” Wachtel said.
Wachtel and Goldman, who at the time were working together on legislative matters for the Parent Teacher Student Association Council, decided to cut out the middle man.
Goodwill and Salvation Army sell clothes to raise money for other causes, and for families without that spare dollar, a shopping trip could have been a meal.
“One thing that’s pretty amazing is that when we tell people what we’re doing, they’re so surprised and they say, ‘Santa Monica-Malibu? Really?’” Goldman said. “There’s such a misconception of the melting pot of people in our community.”
They contacted principals, community liaisons and PTA presidents for support and began collecting clothes they could use from lost and founds at other schools and set up clothing drives.
The idea was simple: Goldman and Wachtel pick up the clothes and separate them out by school. They then wash and sort them, and when requests for clothes come in, they fill them.
Threads has rules when it comes to who gets the clothes and what.
An informal network of people at schools works to identify students who need help, be they on the free or reduced-price lunch program or show some other sign that the clothes might help them out.
Wachtel and Goldman never get names of those who receive clothes, just the gender, sizes and which school they attend.
That last part is important — they ensure that children never receive clothing that came from a lost and found at their own school to reduce the risk that another child will recognize a lost garment and call them out.
School leadership has responded to the call, turning over the keys to the lost and founds and helping with clothing drives.
It’s actually helpful to the schools that can’t get rid of their accumulated clothing piles fast enough, said Phil Cott, the outgoing principal of Webster Elementary in Malibu.
“We don’t even know what to do with this stuff,” Cott said, referring to the “quite stunning” lost and found at his school. “The used market has gotten overwhelmed.”
A drive at Grant Elementary turned up 20 bags of clothing, and other schools showed similar support. It’s left Goldman and Wachtel with more clothes than they know what to do with, filling up their garages and other nooks and crannies.
Last week, planning commissioner and school advocate Richard McKinnon put up a shout-out to Wachtel on his official Facebook page, letting people know about Threads and how to support it. The nonprofit has been somewhat underground otherwise, spreading by word of mouth mostly through the school community.
“To me, that’s a fantastic thing,” McKinnon said. “There’s a lot of underprivileged kids that need help in this community, and every community.”
While they think it’s positive that news of the nonprofit is getting out, Wachtel and Goldman harbor some concerns about the infrastructure behind their project.
First of all, they need space to put the clothes, preferably somewhere that children and families can stop by and actually choose the clothes themselves so what they get is something that they want to wear.
“If someone buys me a gift and it’s not my taste, I’m not going to wear it,” Goldman said. “The peer pressure of feeling like you’re ‘in’ is important, too.”
Secondly, cash is an issue.
Goldman and Wachtel pay for the soap and other supplies to clean the clothes with a helping hand from Fox Laundry on Montana Avenue, which gives them access to their machines for free. Still, it’s become a burden, the extent of which both Goldman and Wachtel dodge when asked.
“It’s obviously something we couldn’t continue to do,” Wachtel said. The current wishlist stands at clothes, space and money.
Still, Goldman thinks this thing can go all the way.
“Once we get this up and running, we want to show this model to other districts and set this model up so they can do what we’re doing,” Goldman said. “We want it to go across the country and make it a program that anybody can replicate.”
Anyone who would like to make a donation can e-mail Threads at firstname.lastname@example.org.