Garment Companies Join in Effort to Clothe Homeless

JOE, a homeless man staying at a local shelter, says he's tired of getting hand-me-down clothes. He says it's degrading and stamps him as chronically unemployed when applying for jobs.So when the garment industry-sponsored San Francisco Clothing Bank provided him and other residents of the Episcopal Sanctuary with new clothes, he adopted a "new attitude. It makes you feel more pleasant and more responsible for yourself." Joe is now getting occasional day work through the warehouseman's union. The San Francisco Clothing Bank not only makes the homeless feel better, it benefits clothing manufacturers as well. Randall Harris is executive director of San Francisco Fashion Industries, the trade association that set up the clothing bank. He says manufacturers donate mainly for charitable reasons, but they can also get a tax write-off for the "fair market value" of the products. He adds that some companies with a very "high level of quality control don't want second quality merchandise being sold at discount stores because it would denigrate their product. They'd rather give it away." Established in 1987, the clothing bank has distributed more than $4 million worth of goods to 35,000 people. It runs solely on manufacturers' donations. Other clothing banks operate in New York and Atlanta. Harris says Bay Area manufacturers donate discontinued items, samples, or irregulars to the clothing bank's warehouse. The bank makes sure only legitimate charities receive the goods and that no one resells them. The largest donor is underwear manufacturer Jockey International. Seth Jaffe, general counsel for Levi Strauss & Co., says the clothing bank saves a lot of administrative headaches. Most don't want to deal with requests from hundreds of charities and attempt to verify which are legitimate. "It's easier to ship to one place," he says. "This is the only place in the country that can take an 18-wheeler full of clothing." The bank's board of directors is considering expanding operations beyond northern California.

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