The approach of winter weather has local charities gearing up to gather the essential supplies to help the homeless survive.
One of the biggest challenges is acquiring adequate amounts of men’s clothing.
“Always, our biggest need is men’s clothing, because that’s the biggest population we’re serving,” said Greg Chudy, donations manager at So Others Might Eat.
Unfortunately, there is often a mismatch between the donations and the needs, organizers say.
Because men make up the majority of the homeless population, demand for male clothing is significantly higher than any other category. Yet coats and other garments for men are donated at the lowest rate. In three days, we take all of those clothes in, and with about 300 volunteers we sort them, bag them, and deliver them.
“We get about three times as much women’s clothes as we do men’s. Unfortunately, the request we get from most of our clients is exactly the opposite.” said Joseph Edmondson, Jr. vice president for used clothing and a board member at Gifts for the Homeless, or GFTH.
City plans for emergency shelter beds for the winter seem to bear him out: 1,331 beds for single men, compared with just 427 beds for single women.
Over the years, GFTH, a charitable organization formed in the mid-80’s and run by volunteers from law firms and corporate legal departments from across the city, has learned to adapt to meet the actual needs. GFTH, governed and operated by a board of directors, has no paid staff or administrative costs. Any overhead is covered by board members or their affiliated firms, meaning every dollar GFTH raises goes directly to purchasing clothing for the homeless.
Every year, at the end of November, the group puts on a large-scale clothing drive to collect winter clothing for the homeless.
While the event itself takes place over a three-day period from November 30 through December 2, Edmondson says individual law firms and affiliated organizations begin their own drives in early or mid-November. Each group then delivers their gathered donations to a central site, where clothing is sorted and packaged. The clothing is then loaded onto vans and distributed to over 70 shelters and service providers throughout the city.
“In three days, we take all of those clothes in, and with about 300 volunteers we sort them, bag them, and deliver them.”
Typically they end up with far more women’s clothes and a shortage of men’s clothes. That’s where GFTH’s new clothing directive comes in.
Using an annual budget of $400,000 raised from various fundraisers, the group is able to purchase brand new clothing to supplement their supply.
“We’ll take money and go out and buy twelve dozen or so coats, and mix them into the pile,” says Edmondson. “New coats will show up alongside old coats in our bags. That way we make sure we have enough.”
Fortunately for SOME’s Greg Chudy and the men his organization helps, some of those new coats and clothes find their way to SOME’s clothing closet.
“That’s what we’ve really relied on to get through the winter,” said Chudy.
SOME registered nearly ten thousand individual visits to its clothes room during 2011, and GFTH delivered over four thousand bags of clothing during last year’s winter drive.
And while the clothing center is open year-round, Chudy said the need d for clothing donations peaks during the winter months.
“Particularly when it gets colder, groups will reach out and host clothing drives on our behalf,” said Chudy.
That’s the spirit that drives GFTH, said Edmondson. While the organization accepts clothing for any season, its slogan is “Making the Winter a Little Warmer.”
“We certainly do focus on winter clothing,” he said. “That’s really where our core is.” said Edmondson.
He said he is heartened by the annual generosity shown by his donors. But the growth of his organization seems bittersweet when he thinks of the needs of the city’s growing homeless population.
“Unfortunately, it is getting bigger. We’d love it to get smaller each year, but unfortunately the problem’s not getting smaller.”