By Natalie Chun
On Aug. 2, The Sharing Shelf began filling the first backpacks for its annual Backpacks to School initiative which plans to pack over 1,250 backpacks this year. Volunteers filling the bags ranged from middle school students to county officials, including Westchester County Executive George Latimer.
The Sharing Shelf is a grassroots initiative, which collects and distributes new and gently-used clothing for low-income children in Westchester County. Director Deborah Blatt started The Sharing Shelf in her garage just eight years ago. Since then, around 11,000 children have been served and The Sharing Shelf is continuing to expand, both in impact and its location.
“We’re all about elevating the children and giving them more self-esteem and keeping them in school, that’s really critical to us,” Blatt said. “We know that children are dropping out of school, we know that children are not attending school, because they lack things as basic as clothing, socks, underwear.”
The Sharing Shelf achieves this by partnering with nonprofits, community groups, schools and hospitals in the county. Blatt uses the euphemism “care manager” for teachers, attorneys, caseworkers, therapists and others working with low-income children and families. These care managers can submit requests for clothing to The Sharing Shelf, which puts together a package of clothing for each individual child.
“We’re also making it easier for those working with low-income families in the nonprofit sector by giving them a tool to assist their clients with one more thing,” Blatt said.
Because The Sharing Shelf works through these care managers, they do not work directly with families or individuals. They do not have the ability to assess need, according to Blatt so instead, those seeking The Sharing Shelf’s assistance should go through the Department of Social Services.
“So a family in need, we would encourage them to contact anyone they are working with in DSS,” Blatt said. “Do they receive housing support? Do they receive food stamps? Contact their person at employment services or their person within DSS. Or, if they have any kind of Social Work support to contact that caseworker.”
These care managers can also submit requests for children in need of backpacks from The Sharing Shelf during their annual Backpacks to School initiative. The Sharing Shelf also hosts a semi-annual Teen Boutique which is a free, one-day shopping boutique for girls aged 13-19 from families in financial need.
The Sharing Shelf is focused on its community and logs 5,000 volunteer hours each year. They receive donations from nonprofits, stores, and members of the community but are currently in need of financial support in order to continue bringing clothing and school supplies to those in need.
“I love to see how the community steps forward with donations, with volunteering to give back, and we’re really glad that the Shelf can be the impetus to make change for children who have need in our community,” Blatt said.