Posts tagged ‘service project’

June 4, 2013

The Economics of Used Clothing and Shoes

Today I read an article that Oklahoma doesn’t need used clothing and shoes. I want to say that SYM categorically does need them in Austin, Texas. There flat out is insufficient supplies of adult clothing for our our impoverished people here in Austin. Clothing is rationed and people regularly are turned away with shoes falling apart or pants torn due to lack of stock and sizes.
The agencies responding to the crisis in Oklahoma correctly point out that cash is more flexible and requires far less work to manage. They point out correctly that is makes more sense to stimulate the local economy in a crisis by enabling people to purchase new items for themselves. SYM completely agrees with all of this, however, we have to be practical when dealing with a daily flow of impoverished clients seeking help. Funds are not available to cloth our impoverished in Austin. However, we are blessed with volunteers and people willing to donate used clothing. And I know there is a lot  clothing out there. We just need to organize it and get it to the right spots.
First, let’s establish some scale of need for SYM. I would love to receive 500 to 1000 pairs of used adult practical shoes today. We and those we are partnered with can give out 30 or 40 pair of practical adult shoes weekly, about 25% women and 75% men. We can use flip flops, practical sandals, work shoes, work boots, army boots, and even practical dress shoes. Most used shoes don’t last long, unfortunately, and especially when they are your only pair and worn without “rest” every day. We have the storage for about 1000 pairs right now. We don’t have the money to ship it, but we can manage it once it’s in Austin. Would we prefer money to purchase 30 or 40 new pairs of shoes weekly? Sure… but we have to be practical. And there are choices… we’d far rather spend that type of cash on food or rehab or health, for example. For the records, we need about the same number of shorts and belts. These are always in short supply, especially for men. I’ll finish this paragraph by stating that we also give away about 100 pairs of socks every week and could probably give away about that many underwear. (Our ladies prefer panties and our men prefer boxers or boxer-briefs.) We strive to give away new socks and underwear but sometimes we don’t have them.
With that paragraph out of the way, let me share my dream. I dream of the local church in the Austin area collecting used clothing, laundering it, folding it, sorting it, and holding it in a closet. Each church would become part of a network of churches, feeding upwards toward every clothing closet in the city. Some would be collection points; some secondary hubs; and some primary hubs. We’d have a supply network with storage, ready to deliver when needed by a closet. It’s not easy to run a clothing closet, but it would be easy to be a collection point and supply hub. That’s our dream! Certainly we’d like to see it for our most excellent clothing closet partner, University United Methodist Church, and we’d love to see it for every clothing closet in the city. UUMC has the most space dedicated to clothing storage for the poor that I have seen in Austin, and yet they must ration mens clothing and rarely have shoes to fit their clients. We could change that! Distant small towns saving clothing and moving it on occasion to suburbs. Suburban churches saving clothing and moving it to larger hub churches. Volunteers at clothing closets sending out emails to their hubs with monthly needs to be filled. It would be awesome!
Why bother? I think it’s important that the local church gets involved in the lives of all the impoverished people right in their back yards. I know that simply buying “new” clothes would be “cheaper” if you factor in people’s time. But the time is a precious gift, and it may make more of an impact that the clothing can ever do.
If you’re part of a network of churches who would like to organize this clothing railroad, please contact us. This railroad would have a lasting impact on our city for years if not decades to come. It would be green, it would foster fellowship and church inter-working, and it would be run by people who care for and encourage those impoverished in the city of Austin–now 11th largest city in the country. It would be a blessing to the poor and, I know, the volunteers would be blessed as well.

“To know, love and serve street dependent youth.”
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June 26, 2010

Questions from Youth about Street Youth

  • “Getting to see the youth in a positive setting. You usually only hear about homeless people negatively.” 
  • “Just getting to talk to them about stuff they like.”
The greatest gift I believe we can give to street youth it so make them visible and to see them as human beings. They are not runaways and they are not homeless adults. They are rebellious youth trying to figure out what to be, what to do, how the world works. They got lousy starts, usually, and are trying to make the best of it.

What bothered you? 
  • “Some of them really talk mean to some of the other street kids.”
  •  “I saw a fresh tattoo on one and a pack of cigarettes on another. Seems like they could spend their money differently.”
Street youth are family to one another. Usually the best family they have ever experienced. That means there are loving dynamics but also tough dynamics. There is a lot of drama, but in the end they usually look out for each other like brothers and sisters.
Street youth do get money as gifts or from begging or by working temp jobs. And they don’t often safe it all up and use it to leave the street. As Christians we need to take care not to judge them for this. We are called to love them just as they are. We can hold our fellow believers in our churches to higher standards, and the Bible asks us to do that in fact. But outside the church we are called to love unconditionally.

Do you have other questions?
  • “I heard a lot of stories. I started to wonder if they were telling me the truth or what they wanted me to hear to get what they wanted.” 

This is a great observation. Don’t we all make up certain things about our lives and tell little fibs? Haven’t we at some time or another made a more elaborate web of lies to protect something we’re ashamed of or afraid of? Street kids are no different. They do sometimes tell elaborate lies. I always accept those initially. I never challenge them. If I begin to question certain parts, it may cause great damage. Sort of like tugging at a loose thread on a dress jacket sleeve. Suddenly the jacket may completely fall apart. I am strongly interested in the truth, but I want to help the youth get to the truth with the appropriate love and support systems. The street offers little in the way of support so it’s not a good place to begin to deconstruct the elaborate shells of protection that some youth have build around them.

  •  “Why don’t the churches down here hire the youth to do odd jobs. I know my church has all kinds of jobs to do.” 
There are about 12 churches and even more para-church organizations in the 12 blocks I serve. Few of them hire homeless to do anything, although almost all offer some type of social service (food pantry, clothing closet, weekly case management, etc.). I believe it is the plight of urban churches in the trenches with poverty to tire. Perhaps they need more help from suburban churches, coming alongside and encouraging, inspiring, and helping. It is my prayer that the churches in the west campus area will find ways to do even more… allowing street youth access to water in the summer, allowing street youth a safe place to sit in the daytime, a safe place to sleep outdoors in the night, odd jobs to earn money or bus passes. It is complicated, but that simply means it takes the power and complexity of the church at work! For God, nothing is impossible!

“To know, love and serve street dependent youth.”
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May 23, 2009

Project Reaching Out

Austinites and homeless youth volunteer together

It was an unusual sight last Sunday afternoon: homeless teenagers in ragged clothes and members of Austin churches strolling down Guadalupe Street together, holding trash bags, picking up trash with their rubber gloved hands.

What’s going on? Community healing. At least that was the aim of organizer Terry Cole, a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church, who last year left a high-tech career to start Street Youth Ministry, which provides resources and spiritual care to Austin’s street-dependent youth.

Cole, who is commissioned through Covenant, organized the Reaching Out event to bridge the gap between the street youth population and the rest of the community, because he says there is animosity on both sides.“It’s hard to hate somebody when you get to know them,” Cole said.“I think the event was a big success. I thought that an event where the street kids could volunteer alongside others would be win-win. We chose to clean up the area around the Drag because that is where many of the kids hang out, and there is a lot of friction between the business owners and the kids,” he said.

More than a dozen church volunteers and about eight homeless youth showed up for this first event, which was sponsored by members of Pedernales River Fellowship Church, who provided supplies, food and drinks for the volunteers. Together they cleaned up 350 pounds of trash from alleys, hangout places and streets in the west campus area near the University, Guadalupe businesses, and downtown churches.

Cole hopes to repeat this event monthly, with different groups or churches sponsoring. Keep Austin Beautiful also provided tools and supplies.

“Before we started, there was some apprehension on both sides,” said Martha Cole, Terry’s wife. “The church volunteers didn’t know what to expect, and the street kids were a bit leary, too. Many of them just watched from the sidelines. But for those that got involved, I think it was a great experience. It was interesting to see everyone interacting.”

Cole’s aim for Street Youth Ministry is to see transformed lives. Through partnering with Lifeworks, a non-profit organization that provides street outreach, and also a missionary organization called Help for All Nations, Cole ministers to about 60-70 youth per week, many of whom are former foster-care recipients.

For more information about Street Youth Ministries, or to sign up to sponsor a Reaching Out event, go to

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