Home Underwear Undies for Everyone provides a small piece of clothing that meets a great need

Undies for Everyone provides a small piece of clothing that meets a great need

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The Hebrew saying “tikkun olam” translates to “repairing the world” and instructs Jews to look beyond their own well-being and work to improve the well-being of society as a whole.

Houston Rabbi Amy Weiss gives her own version of the idea. “I like to say, ‘fix the world – one shot at a time’,” she said.

This has become the slogan of the association she founded in 2012, Undies for Everyone. The nonprofit is the only organization in the United States that focuses solely on tackling underwear insecurity for children in crisis.

Youth served by the group receive a package of seven pairs of underwear, one for each day of the week. But the lens is much bigger than a small invisible piece of clothing.

A study commissioned by JC Penney found that 46 percent of parents living in poverty say underwear is often the last item on their list to buy for their children.

“They pay for food, rent, school supplies,” Weiss said. “But underwear is not one of those things.”

For more information, visit undiesforeveryone.org.


The study also found that 55% of children said they were too embarrassed to go to school without their underwear.

For those who are still attending, not having underwear can make the school day more difficult, Weiss explained. Children fear that others will notice. Lack of underwear affects their self-esteem, which can have dire consequences down the road.

Underwear is just a little problem for kids who need it so badly, Weiss said.

“But we are able to meet this need on a large scale,” she said.

This need has only increased since COVID-19 – and Undies for Everyone has been able to expand its reach.

Today, the organization serves children in 15 US cities in nine states. This year, 105,000 students will receive a pack of seven new underwear.

During the pandemic, the organization also began hosting virtual drives. The association provides shopping lists, templates and social media guides to organizations, which can then collect donations.

Undies for Everyone started when Weiss was researching topics for his blog in 2008.

A social worker told her that poor children are in desperate need of socks and underwear, but these items are often overlooked when donations are made.

“I never thought about it,” Weiss said.

After writing about it, a few people donated money or a bag of underwear, which Weiss took to ISD Houston nurses, who could distribute them as needed if a child had an accident.

“It just hit me,” said Weiss, who worried that if she didn’t tackle the task, no one would.

She decided to organize back-to-school underwear drives in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

In 2012, Weiss received an email from a nurse at a low-income school asking for underwear. She loaded a trash bag with donations, put it on her shoulder, and walked to campus.

“I was like a Jewish Santa Claus,” she recalls with a smile. “The nurse said, ‘Rabbi, thank goodness you are here.’ There was a little girl who had just had an accident, and I was there with my underwear on. That made his day.

This convinced Weiss to make Undies for Everyone his full-time gig – and a registered nonprofit.

“That’s when I knew, ‘This is what I’m doing,'” Weiss said.

In the first year, 9,000 pairs were delivered to HISD headquarters.

Word of mouth spread word of mouth every year, Weiss said. A school nurse told a friend from another school district.

“It went on and on,” Weiss said.

Barry Mandel, chairman of the board and chairman of Discovery Green Conservancy, clearly remembers the first time Weiss asked him to get involved.

“I was just amazed that there was a unique need being met in this way,” he said. “So many times there is duplication of services in the nonprofit world. It was different.

Mandel jumped at the chance and has enjoyed being a part of the organization ever since.

“It’s just one thing that we can make a child forget so that they can go through a learning environment without a hitch,” he said. “Any obstacle we can overcome to help them stay in class just encourages them. “

In early August 2017, Undies for Everyone had donated 220,000 pairs.

“Then Hurricane Harvey came along,” Weiss said.

Suddenly, Undies for Everyone had to meet a massive need – and donors around the world were ready to help.

More than 1.4 million pairs of underwear were delivered to men, women and children within four months of the disaster. Hurricanes Irma and Florence followed, followed by fires in California.

“We sent underwear after each of them,” Weiss said.

She hired three people to join her team in a week – and soon the association added Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin to its distribution list.

By the time COVID shut down the world in 2020, Undies for Everyone was providing more than 500,000 pairs per year.

At the start of the closures, Weiss and CFO and Operations Manager Julie Hayon found a supplier that could significantly reduce costs. “And that meant we could grow,” Weiss said.

They decided to improve their distribution process accordingly.

Instead of sending donations to school nurses, Undies for Everyone began partnering with groups that had distribution plans in place, including food banks, children’s hospital mobile units, and protection services. from childhood.

At the Houston Food Bank, Undies for Everyone works with the Backpack Buddy program, which provides students in need with a bag of food for weekends and other times outside of the national school lunch program.

“We know that families struggling with food insecurity also need help with other resources,” said Christina Alley, senior director of children’s programs at the Houston Food Bank.

Including a pack of underwear with the food bag just made sense – and the donations were immediately well received, she explained.

“Our schools have loved it from the very beginning,” said Alley.

Developing a new strategy and working with partners to distribute donations has enabled Undies for Everyone to reach more children in a difficult time, Weiss explained.

“There are so many people going through a financial crisis,” she said.

“It makes a difference in a child’s day if they are given a pair of underwear when they have an accident, but it’s not enough,” she said. “Our price was down and we wanted to do more. We need to make seven pairs. We had to serve more children.

Now, said Weiss, the possibilities are endless.

“The more you do, the better,” she says. “I like to get up every day. On Sundays, it’s hard to sleep because I can’t wait to go to work. There are so many opportunities – and the need is huge. This is what keeps me going.

Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.