But Rabbi Amy Weiss offers something so simple, but essential for those in dire need: underpants. For everybody.
Now a national program, it all started about 15 years ago when Weiss learned about the need from a social worker.
“Children at risk need all kinds of resources that their families cannot afford,” Weiss said. “Underwear is just a neglected item and very expensive. So financially struggling parents tend to think, “You can’t see your underwear, so it’ll be ok.” “
Many donation centers do not accept used underwear, so parents often throw away their children’s old pairs, creating a gap for children whose families rely on donated clothing.
Lack of clean underwear can affect a child’s self-esteem, attitudes, and even school attendance. And for children living in poverty, a dose of dignity can make a huge difference.
“A pair of underwear seems like a simple thing, but for our students who don’t have it, or who moved from place to place, or left in the middle of the night for domestic reasons, clean underwear is a big deal,” said Ilka Rosado, manager/coordinator for parenting in the Houston Independent School District. “It affects their self-esteem. You’ll be surprised how exciting packing new underwear can be for our students.”
By 2017, as part of a one-woman operation, she had established relationships with about 30 schools and was on track to distribute over 200,000 pairs of underwear that year alone.
But in August 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana. The disaster resulted in catastrophic flooding and over 100 deaths, leaving people without food, shelter or clothing.
“The whole world has been turned upside down,” Weiss said. “We are staying at my husband’s office. I held the shorts with a telephone cord.”
She and her husband, Rabbi Kenny Weiss, lost their home but, with the support of friends and family in the Houston community, quickly turned around to support those who had lost everything.
“There was literally no new underwear to give these people,” Weiss said. “It’s a sign of dignity for anyone who has lost everything…underwear makes you feel better and makes you feel a little normal. So we really wanted to help.”
Writer Brené Brown, Weiss’s neighbor and supporter of her organization, also intervened.
“She posted a video and asked people to send in underwear,” Weiss said. “And my computer started buzzing like I won I don’t know what… in a slot machine. I’ll just fast forward and say we got 1.5 million pairs of underwear from all over the world at my husband’s office.”
The influx of underwear was a game-changer for the Weiss organization.
“People volunteered when they found out about what we were doing,” Weiss said. “They wanted to know if we could help other communities.”
Weiss non-profit organizations partner with and rely on local child protection services, boy and girl clubs, and pediatric mobile units to distribute underwear. Distributions are made anonymously; Weiss and her team never meet the recipient. And that’s what Weiss wants.
“To give, you don’t have to show photos of everyone and give it a lot of importance,” Weiss said. “It could just be because it’s the right thing to do and you want to help people feel good about themselves and be successful.”
Since 2017, Undies for Everyone has expanded to nine states and Washington DC. The organization partners with businesses, individuals and community organizations to host “packing parties” where volunteers sort and fold underwear into seven-packs and deliver to a distribution partner. According to Weiss, the nonprofit’s main goal is to serve children ages 5 to 14 and provide them with quality and “fun” underwear.
“We want to increase these children’s self-esteem, self-esteem and self-confidence,” Weiss said. “And keep them in school. This will help them become more successful in social situations, in academic situations. When they have underwear, they just feel better and more confident. And it’s just easier to be a kid.”