The Sharing Shelf Combats Clothing Insecurity in Westchester

Serving more than 100 nonprofits and schools across the 914, The Sharing Shelf supports the community's needs.

When Deborah Blatt dropped her kids off at Henry Barnard School in New Rochelle, she witnessed clothing insecurity firsthand. She watched as the school social worker struggled to keep up with the demands of students and families. Soon after, she founded The Sharing Shelf.

When The Sharing Shelf launched in 2009, Blatt worked out of a basement in Rye. Now, The Sharing Shelf operates out of a 6,600-square-foot warehouse in Port Chester, serving more than 100 nonprofits and schools county-wide.

“I felt that it would make a lot more sense if there was a centralized place where children could access clothing if needed, rather than the school social worker carrying that burden themself,” Blatt says.

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Fifteen years later, The Sharing Shelf responds to the community’s needs more than ever. New and gently used clothing is collected and then sorted by quality, size, season, and gender. After that, the volunteers distribute clothing such as shirts, pants, coats, diapers, school supplies, and more through local organizations.

Volunteer

The local partners the program works with include nonprofits, schools, and hospitals in Westchester. The organizations put in requests on behalf of community members and distribute the clothing to low-income children at no cost. In the last year alone, Blatt says The Sharing Shelf has seen a 26% increase in demand for clothing.

“The pressures on our program are rising and we need to recognize this issue as a central problem,” Blatt says. “Our goal is to take the burden off of schools, food pantries, and often social service agencies.”

In a recent study conducted by The Sharing Shelf, Blatt notes that a lack of clothing, supplies, and clean clothes causes kids to miss school. Nearly 14% of Westchester children are chronically absent from school, and clothing is one critical cause, according to The Sharing Shelf. When children are in school and lack resources, they are more likely to endure bullying and suffer from low self-esteem.

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To address the needs of all community members, The Sharing Shelf also has a Teen Boutique. The boutique is a series of free shopping days held in partnership with area schools, nonprofits, and community organizations for teens living in poverty or low-income homes. In January 2023, it also opened a physical boutique adjacent to the Port Chester Clothing Bank.

“We have children and teens who don’t have sneakers, winter coats, and underwear,” Blatt says. “Without these basic essentials, kids can’t participate in life on par with their classmates.”

The Sharing Shelf volunteers

The organization also has a summer initiative called Backpacks to School, which fills and distributes new backpacks with school supplies to students in need. The Sharing Shelf receives a supply list from teachers and works with social workers, other nonprofits, and schools to get bags to kids before the start of the academic year.

In 2023, it provided backpacks to 1,874 children and teens through 40 schools and nonprofits, Blatt shares. It also provided the community with 4,900 wardrobe packs, each containing a week’s worth of clothing.

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Similar to other nonprofits, The Sharing Shelf struggles with limited resources for its growing demands.

“One of the biggest challenges is meeting the growing need,” Blatt says. “So when you have a rising need, you need to have the inventory on hand to serve the guests, which for us means clothing in every size.”

Serving babies, children, and teens to the age of 19 makes it hard for The Sharing Shelf to know which clothing sizes will be in high demand. It asks for community help in addressing these challenges by donating clothing in any size as well as new hygiene products, school supplies, diapers, socks, and underwear.

A volunteer holds up kids' clothing

“It brings value to Westchester County to have a place like this serve economically vulnerable families,” Blatt says. “On the other hand, it also serves as a place where you as an individual or business can give back.”

Beyond donating clothes, The Sharing Shelf relies on volunteers to accomplish its mission. People can volunteer to work a scheduled time slot in the clothing bank or volunteer in the community by organizing drives and collection efforts.

It also encourages business groups to volunteer for shifts so they can give back to the community while also working on team-building skills. In 2023, it had over 1,100 different volunteers in the clothing bank.

Moving forward, Blatt hopes to raise awareness about clothing insecurity in Westchester. She wants people to know that clothing insecurity is on the rise and impacts children’s daily lives.

“We talk about housing insecurity and food insecurity, but we need to look at clothing insecurity on par with those two issues because they are all interconnected,” Blatt observes.

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