Second Chances: Colorful clothing bins help homeless and low-income citizens

Scattered throughout Somerville and Cambridge are colorful Second Chances clothing donation bins. For a decade, Second Chances has been providing free clothing to homeless and lower-income people in the community with very few hands on deck.

“Over ten years, we have never had more than two days a week of staffing,” said founder and CEO Andrea Shapiro. “We’re looking to hire a staff member who is devoted, because right now we are unable to reach as many people as need us.”

Short-staffed as they may be, Second Chances has still managed to make a major difference. Backed by Shapiro’s 25 years of experience working in housing and homelessness in the area, it has recycled and reused nearly 900,000 pounds of donated clothing and helped more than 2,700 people since its foundation.

river street sideSecond Chances strives to provide nice, professional clothing that people can wear to a job interview. Community partners, such as Transition House, make requests for their clients to Second Chances, who then put together the outfits to match the need. Other community partners include On the Rise, Somerville Homeless Coalition, Just A Start House, Vinfen, HomeStart, Wayside and Somerville Cambridge Elder Services.

“It helps a lot of people get jobs, get housing, reunite with their families,” said Shapiro. “It all starts with clothing. Self-esteem and appearing confident creates success that ripples into other parts of life.”

Clothes that are useable but don’t fit the professional look are sold wholesale, which funds 30 percent of Second Chances’ operations.

“We wouldn’t provide anything we wouldn’t wear ourselves,” said Shapiro. “We reuse or recycle all that is not appropriate for client use.”

She mentioned that clothes these days are more disposable than ever, and that many clothes that could have been recycled or donated often end up being thrown away. Second Chances tries to mitigate that waste by sending unuseable clothes to textile recyclers, who grind up the clothing for several uses, from stuffing car seats to making carpets or even paper.

Second Chances is mostly funded by sponsors and individual donations.

“We need cash donations,” said Shapiro. “We need funding to move forward.”

As well as funding, Second Chances also needs places to put their donation bins. Recently, for their tenth anniversary, they were able to purchase ten new donation bins. After replacing four older bins, six new bins remained without a home.

new street side“We need to place these bins to help generate more clothing and revenue,” said Shapiro. “We’re looking for six locations in Somerville or Cambridge for folks to donate clothes. The best places tend to be smallish businesses that are actively engaged, where the employees are in and out of the building on a regular basis and are committed to giving back.”

The organization’s current bins are located throughout the area—in the Somerville Whole Foods Market at 45 Beacon St., at Cambridge’s Fresh Pond area at 162 New St., at two of Cambridge’s Whole Foods Markets at 340 River St. and at 115 Prospect St. and at Watertown’s Delaney Uniform Service at 79 Grove St.

If you can’t host a bin, Shapiro said the best way to volunteer regularly is to host a clothing drive in your business, congregation, or community. For more information on volunteering, go to www.secondchances.org/waysyoucanhelp.html.

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