Contrary to what her garage might suggest, Suzanne Goldman isn’t a hoarder.
The boxes and boxes of clothing she’s collected represent the work of the nonprofit she and fellow school parent Jake Wachtel started a couple years ago.
But Santa Monica-based Threads has outgrown its temporary storage space.
Indeed, the success of the co-founders’ efforts to clothe needy students in Santa Monica and Malibu has led to a major turning point: They no longer have room to house the clothing they’ve rounded up over many months, and they’re now entering a partnership with a larger nonprofit organization to expand their reach and impact.
The group’s clothing will be placed at area thrift shops run by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women, where local low-income students and their families can use vouchers to acquire clothes for free.
It was part of Threads’ vision all along, Goldman said, to allow children to select their own clothes instead of being handed items that don’t fit well or that don’t mesh with their style preferences.
“They’re going to be able to shop and pick out any type of clothing — not just things we’ve collected,” Goldman said. “People can go in and shop for what they want. Families with vouchers can go to an actual store, go through the racks and get what they need.”
Noticing a need
The idea for Threads came about when Wachtel and his daughter, then a third-grader at Grant Elementary, noticed that another student was wearing the same clothes to school every day.
Knowing that the school had a sizable collection of lost-and-found items that would likely be donated to and resold by charity organizations, Wachtel believed the clothes could serve a purpose without leaving the district.
Plans took root when Wachtel shared the idea with Goldman while the two worked on legislative issues as PTA Council representatives.
With the help of school officials and community liaisons who identified students in need while protecting their privacy, Wachtel and Goldman collected clothing, washed it at no cost thanks to the ongoing assistance of Fox Cleaners on Montana Avenue and and anonymously donated it throughout the district.
One recipient was a student from a single-parent home who went two weeks without wearing underwear or socks. Another was a student who didn’t have the winter wear to attend a field trip to the snow. And there are parents in the district who have to choose between putting food on the table, paying the electric bill or buying clothes for their child.
“We’ve delivered clothing at almost every single school in the district,” Wachtel said. “This is not just for one school or one area. There are people at all the schools who are really benefiting from what we’ve been doing … And now we’re going to have a place to bring clothing and an ability to give families in need a way to access it.”
Threads has operated largely through word of mouth, but it has grown in popularity among members of the Santa Monica-Malibu school district community.
“It’s a country-wide issues and a regional issue and a local issue,” Wachtel said. “We’re doing the best we can to help families in our community and, with the partnership, the extended community.”
Making a difference
Threads’ work with the National Council of Jewish Women began well before the new partnership.
When Goldman and Wachtel initially set up a clothing drive in the district to set their idea in motion, NCJW volunteers spent hours helping them sort donated items.
In return, when the Council offers clothes and supplies to children in need during its one-day Back 2 School Store event on July 19, Goldman and Wachtel will assist as volunteers.
Threads will continue to spearhead clothing drives throughout the year, and the items they collect will help to replenish the Council thrift shops’ inventories. But for Goldman and Wachtel, the new model alleviates their storage burdens while still allowing them to connect with local families.
The partnership also empowers the students to select their own clothing.
“When you’re in middle school, you have your own style,” Goldman said. “You want to choose what you want to wear. Plus, the size small at Gap might fit differently than the small at Old Navy. When people were requesting sizes, we knew we might miss the mark on what actually fits. And since we’ve been giving the clothes away, nobody wanted to come back and say, ‘This doesn’t fit.'”
Now, instead of distributing clothing, Goldman and Wachtel will work with school officials and liaisons to get vouchers in the hands of needy families.
“Everyone thinks Franklin is this high-society school, but we’ve helped people at Franklin,” said Goldman, a parent at the Montana Avenue elementary school. “It’s such a misconception. There’s need in every school.”
For more information about Threads, visit threads4kids.org or email email@example.com. For more information about NCJW, which operates eight thrift shops in the Los Angeles area, visit ncjwla.org.
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.