Port Chester nonprofit helps combat clothing insecurity while raising awareness of growing problem

The Sharing Shelf is a nonprofit organization that collects new and gently used clothes, sorts them for quality control, and distributes them to thousands of kids and teens in Westchester who live in low-income homes.

Jonathan Gordon

Feb 23, 2024, 12:39 AM

Updated 94 days ago

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As clothing insecurity grows in Westchester, one nonprofit fills the gaps
You wouldn't realize it when you think of affluent Westchester County but more than a quarter of the county's children and young adults live in poor or low-income homes.
Food banks and shelters first come to mind as resources to help but clothing insecurity is just as big of an issue. In fact, they go hand in hand.
"Clothing insecurity is sort of that invisible, under-spoken-about subject," Deborah Blatt, founder of The Sharing Shelf, said.
The Sharing Shelf in Port Chester is celebrating 15 years of combatting the issue while raising awareness that the problem is only growing countywide.
It started with Blatt's vision 15 years ago, which has now grown to reach thousands of people every year.
"We get up every day and we get dressed and we take it for granted but it is a daily necessity. You go out into the world and you have clothes on and no matter what you're wearing it is sending a message to the people around you and how you feel," Blatt said.
The Sharing Shelf is a nonprofit organization that collects new and gently used clothes, sorts them for quality control, and distributes them to thousands of kids and teens in Westchester who live in low-income homes.
As Blatt puts it, "We don't want parents to have to choose between feeding their kids and clothing them."
Last year, the organization distributed more than 1,800 backpacks with grade-appropriate school supplies, and nearly 5,000 wardrobe packs, and partnered with 123 different organizations.
"It was my vision but it's not mine anymore. It belongs to Westchester. It belongs to the community in general," Blatt said.
The need for clothing has grown exponentially over the last decade. Between 2015 and 2019 the organization helped anywhere from 1,500 to 1,800 young people annually. That number spiked to just under 3,000 in 2021 and is now more than 5,500.
The clothing bank has grown, too.
Each year it doles out thousands of wardrobe packs and the facility now includes a boutique that offers free shopping for teens, backpacks for school, menstrual products, diapers, toiletries and coats.
Each wardrobe pack contains a pair of shoes, a coat for the winter and a week's worth of clothes - including underwear, socks, pants, and tops. Volunteers also include personal hygiene products, books and other bonus items.
"You're talking about tens of thousands of additional pieces of clothing," Blatt said.
Rye resident Dana Perriello, a stylist by trade, has been volunteering with The Sharing Shelf for over a year.
"No matter what their situation is they have very strong ideas about what they want to wear, and they should and what makes them feel good. I love trying to help them navigate our inventory and how that will reflect them as a person best," she said.
She spends most of her time working in the teen boutique, hand-picking clothes to help teenagers feel more confident in who they are.
"Sometimes things come in and I think, 'Oh, I can't wait to find the kid that this is right for,'" Perriello said.
Studies show that clothing insecurity disproportionately impacts children of color and leads to higher rates of missing school. According to the nonprofit, 14% of Westchester's children are chronically absent from class and clothing is one major factor.
"If you have children who, day in and day out, have to wear dirty clothing, clothing that's too small, clothing that's the wrong season. They're cold on a winter day. They're hot on a summer day. Those are all impacting their emotions. It's also impacting how people see them, interact with them, judge them," Blatt said.
Blatt has big plans for the next 15 years that include another potential expansion and a mission to address poverty through environmentally responsible clothing collection.
Her mission is growing strong - one piece of clothing at a time.


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