Los Angeles resident Fredy Zelaya, 30, has been unemployed for the past three months, and the air conditioning repairman said there are few prospects for getting a job in the near future. With a wife and three children to support, it is difficult to provide the necessities, much less new clothing or presents for Christmas, he said.
Zelaya was one of more than 5,000 people who lined up for hours on Dec. 4 at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles’ (NCJW/LA) annual clothing giveaway, which provides clothing donated to the organization’s nine thrift shops to needy individuals and families. Zelaya, who heard about the clothing giveaway through a flyer at his son’s school near downtown Los Angeles, arrived at the NCJW/LA’s council house on Fairfax Avenue around 4:15 a.m. on Sunday morning to get a good place in line. Although the giveaway didn’t start until 8:30 a.m., dozens of people were already waiting for a chance to take home some of the more than 85,000 items of clothing being offered.
“I have been out of work and have two kids who are actually in school, and they each have only one pair of pants. I was able to get five pairs of pants for my kids,” said Zelaya, an immigrant from El Salvador whose children are ages two, five and eight. “I work very sporadically, and I haven’t paid rent for a second month. It’s really hard without work to support my family.”
The NCJW/LA started the clothing giveaway 15 years ago and initially served a couple of hundred people, but thousands now line up hours before the giveaway starts. By 8:30 a.m., the line stretched down Fairfax Avenue and around the corner on to Rosewood Avenue. Representatives from NCJW/LA said the need has definitely increased because of the tough economy.
“I think, as we all know, the economy has not gotten better like everybody thought, everything has gone up, and people have lost their jobs,” NCJW/LA executive director Hilary Selvin said. “The need we have seen is on the increase. There is an increase in the people struggling.”
Pico/Union District resident David Sanchez, and his son, David Jr., were among the thousands of people facing tough times who turned to the NCJW/LA for help. Sanchez, a plumber, said he is only working one or two days a week, and has children ages seven, 11 and 12 to support.
“For me, it’s like Christmas,” Sanchez said. “I got here at six-thirty because you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get by. This will save a lot of money for me and my family. Right now, it’s hard to find jobs anywhere.”
Bob Klausner, director of retail operations for the council’s thrift shops, said more donations have been coming in to support the clothing giveaway. He added, however, that it is difficult to keep pace with the demand.
“The magnitude of the people needing help is amazing,” said Klausner, who said the clothing is accepted at the thrift shops year-round. “We continuously get donations, and people are still donating, which we appreciate.”
Amy Straus, co-president of the NCJW/LA, added that the clothing giveaway is a unique event in Los Angeles.
“There are a lot of soup kitchens and a lot of food pantries, which are all needed, but we are the only ones giving away clothes,” Straus said. “There are a lot of families coming through and their kids need clothing. People may have job interviews and have to get clothing, or maybe it’s just because they are cold and they need a jacket or sweater. It also lifts their spirits.”
In addition to clothing, the event included an information and advocacy fair with booths staffed by local social service providers and city and state offices. Toys were provided for the children, and the number of volunteers also increased this year from around 200 to 350. West Hollywood resident Adina Anthony said she volunteered because she understands a lot of people need help.
“I just wanted to do this as a way to give back to the community,” Anthony said. “It’s my first volunteer event, and it’s been wonderful. You can really tell why we are here.”
Ruth Williams, director of advocacy for NCJW/LA, added that although there were so many people lined up, everyone was orderly, and there were no problems.
“Things are bad all over, and if you take a look around, you don’t see one person abusing this,” Williams said. “People really need the help, and we are here to provide that help.”
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