As my office gets ready to launch our third-annual “Love Your Neighbor” clothing drive to benefit Second Chances, I thought it would be fun to introduce you to the woman behind the organization — my friend, the amazing Andrea Shapiro!
Lara: Andrea, how did you get the idea to start Second Chances?
Andrea: I’d been working in the housing and homelessness field for about a decade when the largest local clothing donation program closed in 2003. Over the next couple of years, I saw, firsthand, the void created by losing that important resource – both to homeless and low-income clients and to donors. At the time, I was working as a consultant to several local organizations. They’d regularly get clothing donation offers, and either didn’t have staff time or storage to sort and use the clothing, or they’d accept the donations and end up with conference rooms and closets filled with clothing that couldn’t be used by their clients.
Lara: So you decided to step in to meet an obvious need…
Andrea: Yes, I recognized how important self-esteem and appearance were to successful outcomes in housing, employment, education, legal proceedings, and other situations homeless and low-income client face, and was able to draw on my nonprofit management experience, relationships and involvement in the Cambridge/Somerville nonprofit community, and three generations of family experience in clothing and textiles.
Lara: And now you’ve been doing this now for 14 years. How has the organization grown?
Andrea: Budget-wise, we’ve gone from $6,500 a year in 2005 to about $100,000 in 2018. We now have six donation bins, work with ten nonprofit housing and service providers, co-sponsor 28 clothing drives a year, and are serving between 200 – 325 low-income and homeless people a year. Also, last year we recycled more than 225,000 pounds of clothing, shoes and accessories.
Lara: That’s great. Is there any one client story that particularly inspires you?
There are so many, but Nancy and Eric’s story is among my favorites, because it shows how interconnected we all are, and emphasizes how one day you’re the person being helped, and another day you’re the person helping.
In 2008, Nancy took her infant son Eric and fled a violent home. They found shelter and safety with one of our nonprofit partners and began rebuilding their life. They had left home with only the clothes they were wearing, so Second Chances brought Nancy and Eric free clothing, shoes, bags, belts, and more several times that year. After each delivery, Nancy sent photos and notes telling us how grateful they were and what a difference Second Chances’ support meant while they were starting over.
Seven years later, Nancy got in touch with Second Chances to offer a donation. She wanted to give back to someone in need. And I remembered Nancy so clearly, because of the grace and gratitude she showed during her own crisis.
Nancy let me know it was okay to share her email:
“Andrea, I am shocked that you remember us. We are doing so well. Eric is eight years old now, skipped second grade and is doing great in third grade. We are living in a lovely apartment. I have an amazing job that I love and I am finishing up my BA at UMass Boston. I hope all is well with you and Second Chances and I’m really glad to have reconnected. — Nancy and Eric”
Lara: What a great success story — I can see why it stands out to you! So since we’re in January and all in goal-setting mode, what are your goals for Second Chances this year?
Our two major goals are first,to place more of our clothing donation bins in some of the larger apartment and condo complexes in the Somerville/Cambridge area so that residents can more easily recycle and reuse their clothing and support folks in our community.
And second, to hire a part-time staff member to coordinate the clothing donation program. This would be the person who gets clothing for clients and works closely with our provider partners to understand their needs and their clients’ needs. This will allow us to be even more of a resource to our partners and their clients.
And we’ve got lots of additional goals – increasing our visibility, raising more funding so we can serve more people, increasing our sustainability so we can continue to be a resource for recycling and reuse and empowerment for a long time.
Lara: Ambitious — but I know you’ll do it! As a total aside, you’ve been living in Somerville since the 90s — so, what’s your favorite local restaurant?
Andrea: Oh, that’s the toughest question so far! We have so many great restaurants… Sarma because it’s always different and delicious, Vinny’s for the world’s best eggplant parmigiana and antipasto, Daddy Jones for the great atmosphere and comfort food, and Highland Kitchen for terrific cocktails, neighbors, and food.
And if you would like to help Andrea do her good work, you’re in luck! We have an upcoming clothing drive at my office — here’s a link to some more info!