The Bread of Life team would like to honor our wonderful community partner Deborah Blatt, who runs the Sharing Shelf. Her story was published by another amazing community partner Liz woods, Ryemarkable Moms. Enjoy this beautiful story!!
3 adult children
Before founding The Sharing Shelf, what was your career? Attorney focused on women's human rights
What is The Sharing Shelf?
The Sharing Shelf is Westchester's Clothing Bank for Children founded to combat clothing insecurity and meet basic material needs among low-income children and families in our community. We collect new and gently used clothing for infants, children and teens. That clothing is sorted by quality, size, season and gender then distributed to local, low income children at no cost through nonprofits, schools, hospitals and community groups in Westchester County. The children we serve receive a week's worth of seasonally appropriate clothing matched to their sizing needs. We also host a series of free shopping days for low-income teen girls called Teen Boutique and each summer launch our Backpacks to School initiative to fill and distribute new backpacks with new grade appropriate school supplies. We are located at 47 Purdy Avenue in Port Chester, NY.
What does your work include? We are your place to donate clothing. We accept clothing donations in all sizes. We prefer seasonally appropriate and we would love people to separate out stained or damaged items to recycle. We have a recycling bin on site. We are not a store. We support area nonprofits, food pantries, social service agencies, schools, and hospitals by addressing the clothing needs of their students or clients. These service partners place requests for the children they serve and we ensure each child or teen receives a Wardrobe Pack which contains a week's worth of outfits made of high quality, excellent condition used and new clothing including new socks, new underwear, diapers for toddlers and babies, period products when applicable, and a hygiene kit. Do you work year round? Absolutely!! We are working even when the warehouse is closed. A few weeks ago, I had a quick meeting at the warehouse while we were closed and the phone rang. It was a social worker who had just picked up a teen girl and was taking her to a shelter. She had nothing. Her clothing was lost in her transit between one temporary housing to another. I pushed off my next appointment, found a cute tote someone had donated and filled it with leggings, matching hoodies, t-shirts, period product, a toothbrush with toothpaste and deodorant, new socks and new underwear. She was already having a bad day, perhaps a bad week and was in a tough stressful situation. I wanted to say "you are important." I wanted her to feel good about herself - to change out of her dirty items and into something cute, cozy and age appropriate. The following week, we received an email from a social worker. His client has 8 children and all of their clothing was accidentally thrown away by the staff when they were moving shelters. The children had nothing - no clean underwear, no socks, no clothing. Two of our volunteers headed to The Sharing Shelf and quickly packed up 8 Wardrobe Packs. We were able to respond within hours.
What do you love most about your work at The Sharing Shelf?
The stories above. We had another girl - 11 years old. The social worker told us she wasn't going to school because her classmates were making fun of her clothing. At age 11, she was already wearing a woman's 2X. I took that personally - we had new black leggings in 2x, we had new Aeropostale hoodies and Ts in her size. It's a tough size for us to fill - usually the toughest are the girls who wear a woman's L, XL or bigger because we don't get a lot of inventory. But that day, we had great things on hand. I saw this child in my mind and let that image guide - what would she like? What would feel good for her? What would bring a smile to her face and give her confidence?
How was The Sharing Shelf founded? I founded TSS in 2009. My children attended a mixed income public school in New Rochelle and I watched as the school social worker worked to integrate students into the school while trying to collect clothing and address needs she saw. She used to tap me and other parents and asked us to bring in our items. I felt it would be great to have a place where we could all donate and people could volunteer to address the need, and remove that burden from the school social workers. We would be the experts and supply the clothing to those working with low-income children and teens. We would the place people could donate to with meaning and purpose, and save those working with low income families from the burden of sizing, sorting and quality checking then storing items. I researched whether anyone was doing that and no one was doing anything of the sort in Westchester. I studied another program in Boston and that's where we came up with the idea of a Wardrobe Pack, or a week's worth of clothing. The major difference between our work and that program is our commitment to teens. Most of the clothing banks I have studied or connected with focus on babies or younger children, and cap their service community at a certain age. Teens are admittedly harder since their sizes are more complex, with inseams and waist sizes but teens are the ones more likely to drop out of school if they are being bullied for their clothing, if they don't have proper hygiene products, or if they don't feel good about how they look. We dedicate ourselves to the whole child, from birth through 19 and are keenly aware that teens need support on par to babies and younger children.
More than 60,000 Westchester children live in poverty or a low-income home. These families are struggling to make ends meet. We can reduce stress on these families AND meet this basic need with our excellent condition used clothing and new items from the apparel industry. There is so much excess and The Sharing Shelf matches it to the need. This is our expertise. What is the mission of The Sharing Shelf?
We are Westchester's Clothing Bank founded to address clothing insecurity and meet the basic material needs of infants, children and teens in our community. By meeting this basic need, we strive to boost the self esteem of children and teens, reduce a stress of financially struggling families, help keep children and teens in school where they can learn and thrive, and allow them - by providing appropriate clothing - to take advantage of resources like free summer camps. Sadly, many children lose out on these types of opportunities because they do not have enough clothing, they don't have socks or underwear, or even a pair of sneakers.
How does it work?
People donate clothing, then volunteers join us in the warehouse to sort everything by quality, size, season and gender. We have another layer of training to teach our volunteers how to create the Wardrobe Packs. They love to slip in bonus items like a book, a toy, a stuffed animal (only if new), a sun hat. Once the order is complete, we contact the agency/school - whoever placed the order and they come to pick it up and take it to the family.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Our biggest challenge is making sure we have enough quality inventory on hand and the sizes. We want every parent out there who has children outgrowing their clothing to think of us first. We will not distribute just anything because "something is better than nothing." Imagine what message that sends to the recipient. You are only worth another child's used, dirty shirt. No way. When we distribute, it's about "What does this child need?" We need parents of children who are in pre-school to start donating as their children outgrow items and we want them to see us seasonally. Outgrow - donate - repeat. For the bigger teens, we need funding. We have to buy clothing because it just does not exist in age appropriate styles among our donor pool. We need ongoing donations of new socks, new underwear and toiletries. We need VOLUNTEERS!! We are a fun, great place to volunteer. Yes you will work :-) but everything you do is impacting a child who needs help even if you are just sorting through some unwanted shoes.
What is the most important thing for our community to know about your work? What are some ways we can help out?
Volunteer, donate clothing, donate funds!! We are really good at what we do. We have expertise in this field and we are poised to respond. We are a community organization partnering with those in our community dedicated to improving the lives of children and families. Side note - we also LOVE your luxury brands. While we fundraise, we don't hold a gala. If you like high end brands and want a place to donate them, The Sharing Shelf is your place. They are equal to a cash donation. We work the RealReal and an online reseller to raise money from your closet's overflow. Handbags, shoes, coats, jewelry, clothing - bring it in, get a tax receipt and you have supported our work.
Can you share about your collaboration with Bread of Life?
Bread of Life was our lead community partner last year. In 2021, during our first year of collaboration, 437 infants, children and teens received clothing from The Sharing Shelf through Bread of Life. We also provided them with essentials like period products. Food pantries are busy places and distribution days can be overwhelming. To ease the challenges, we worked with Bread of Life to create a streamlined order form in English and Spanish that allowed their volunteers to assist more families more quickly.
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