(Air1 Closer Look) –Children in foster care move around a lot, often arriving at their new placement with just the clothes on their backs. “Somebody takes their clothes or throws away their clothes – or they come back to the washateria and their clothes have been taken out of the dryer,” explains Cathy Hamilton of San Antonio Threads. As a CASA volunteer for several years, Hamilton noticed foster children often had no coats in winter or were stuck wearing shoes too big or too small. Older kids, especially, would have little choice but to dig through charity barrels for items outdated, stained or torn. She said to herself, “this isn’t right, somebody should do something about this,” and “after saying it few times,” she laughs a bit, “I finally decided – it’s me.”
Hamilton founded Threads to provide for youth aged 12-21 who do not have families to take them shopping. And while the city has many generous clothes closets, “the thing that makes us different from everybody is our clothes are new.” Items they give away have never been worn and the tags are still on.
Why new? “Kids grow,” she replies,"and new clothes always fit.”
Threads served 16,000 kids in 2022, “that’s a lotta shoes and that’s a lotta skinny jeans,” she says, and children are allowed to shop free twice a year. They can get basics like socks and shoes or seasonal items like beanies for winter and swimsuits for summer. Personal shoppers walk the young adult through the various departments, encouraging them to pick out sizes, styles and colors they like.
“A lot of our youth maybe have never in their life shopped for anything new,” she says. All items are either discounted or donated by retailers like Converse or American Eagle. “They’re shocked,” and say to her with amazement, ‘we get to choose from this stuff?’” The experience gives the teenagers power over their lives they’ve never had. “They’re choosing whether they wanna wear red or pick or a stripe or a solid – or whatever – it’s their choice.”
And for the teens who have stopped growing, Threads provides clothes they need for their job. Scrubs, slip-resistant shoes, even construction boots can be picked up there free. Hamilton once bought a $100 chef apron for a former foster youth required by her culinary school. The stores have also been called upon to clothe youth who fled fires, human trafficking or domestic abuse.
Hamilton says the kids often write thank you notes for the volunteers after they have completed their fitting. “I’ve had kids say things like ‘old clothes have bad memories, new clothes have good memories -- thank you for the fresh start.”