In celebration of Black History Month, an Oak Park business association is hosting a clothing drive for an Austin-based nonprofit.
Members of the Southtown Business Association (SBA) are collecting gently worn clothing for Fathers Who Care (FWC), a social service agency that provides support for non-custodial and custodial fathers. The agency, located at 4540 W. Washington Blvd., will distribute the donated items, through its clothing program, to residents at no cost.
The association is accepting any donated clothing item, from infant to adult. The two-week-long drive runs until Friday, February 22. Items can be dropped off from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Tan Travel, 964 S. Oak Park Ave.
Tan Travel’s owner Lydia Villanueva-Soto said the association was looking for a community service project to commemorate Black History Month when a Wednesday Journal staffer recommended Fathers Who Care.
“We wanted to do something to give back to the community,” said Villanueva-Soto, SBA’s president. “Since we are so close to the Austin neighborhood, we decided to do something for them.”
Collaborating with Fathers Who Care was a perfect fit, Villanueva-Soto said. The organization works to provide options for youth who have few resources in neighborhoods permeated by violence.
“I think this organization wants to help kids stay out of trouble,” she said. “These dads get together to help these children and spend time with them. I think it is a good organization, and we wanted to get involved with them.”
FWC’s founder and executive director, Rev. Walter Jones, said he is grateful for the assistance. His organization works to empower, clothe, feed and mentor youth. In many West Side communities, poverty, crime and violence make it hard for parents to make ends meet.
“We are fortunate that a lot of our people are generous — as opposed to throwing their clothes away, they would rather donate them,” Jones said.
The donation, he added, will help parents “who don’t have the wherewithal to buy brand new clothing for their children.” The organization, he noted, partners with a local church food pantry and plans to distribute the donated clothes there also. In the past the FWC, which has been in existence for more than a decade, has passed out cold weather gear such as hats, scarves and gloves to school children.
“We are just happy to be considered,” he said.
Getting business involved in the effort wasn’t hard. Villanueva-Soto said once the email went out asking for donations, offers poured in from the 25-member association. Even in these tough times, she said, people want to do something even if they cannot always donate money.
“Times are tough right now and getting organizations and businesses to donate money is not as easy as it used to be,” Villanueva-Soto said. “In tough times it is just easier for us to make a collection of some sort or donate our time.”
Several businesses have donated so far. One business in particular — Trends, a men’s and women’s apparel consignment shop — plans to donate 1,000 items. Owner Kellie Scott also offered up her delivery truck to drop off items. She hopes her donations, which include business attire, help FWC’s clients secure jobs.
“I think it is important that whatever contribution we give has got a purpose,” Scott explained. “One of the greatest purposes is that what we donate could help these people get back on their feet to find jobs. We have access to a lot of clothing and accessories they would need to make a good presentation to find a job.”
The clothing drive is a first for the Southtown Business Association. Villanueva-Soto hopes to make it an annual event.