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Recycling textiles funds overseas charities

Okotoks residents can help the environment and support rebuilding efforts in Haiti with a new recycling initiative.
Residents can bring in their unwanted clothes down to the Eco Centre to add to the new Clothing for a Cause bin.
Residents can bring in their unwanted clothes down to the Eco Centre to add to the new Clothing for a Cause bin.

Okotoks residents can help the environment and support rebuilding efforts in Haiti with a new recycling initiative.

The Town has added a bin for Clothing for a Cause, based out of Airdrie, at the Eco Centre accepting all clothing, linen and shoe donations – in good or poor shape.

Every week, Clothing for a Cause will collect items donated from Okotoks and other locations. They are bundled together at an Airdrie warehouse, then shipped to international buyers in countries like Africa, purchased by the pound at fluctuating market rates. The proceeds go toward Haiti Arise Ministries.

Okotoks waste services manager Paul Lyons said the program helps our local environment while supporting a worthwhile cause.

“The impact clothing has is no different than most of the other material on the landfill,” said Lyons. “Space is a huge driver, but also clothing has dyes, which can impact the health of the landfill, so being able to divert that material will only have a positive effect.”

He said donations can be brought to the Eco Centre, where employees will weigh material and add it to the collection bin. Items do not have to be in good condition, because clothing or bed sheets that are beyond repair will be recycled in other ways, he said.

“If you have a shirt that might be ripped, they're going to use it to make perhaps rags or other materials that they can cut it and use,” said Lyons. “But, they will take the zipper off of pants, they will take buttons off clothing, and reuse all of those as well. It's repurposing a lot of the materials they're going to take.”

The donations are collected at no charge to the Town, he said.

Clothing for a Cause founder Elisa Humphreys said she started the organization to help people in Haiti following a visit just after the devastating 2010 earthquake. The proceeds from used clothing sales support Haiti Arise Ministries and Heart to Heart Orphanage in Haiti, she said.

“We're really blessed to be able to use the collection of clothing to be able to fund what's going on in Haiti,” said Humphreys.

She said the amount of clothing purchased annually in North America is harmful for landfills, because there is only so much people will buy in thrift stores and the rest is discarded.

By collecting clothing, her organization is actually killing three or four birds with one stone. Not only are proceeds going to Haiti, the clothing itself is being sold to customers in places like Africa, where wholesalers sort and sell it in lots, she said.

In places like Kenya, a large bazaar operates much like a department store, she said. Vendors purchase bales of clothing from wholesalers and set up booths in alleys – one alleyway for ladies' clothing, one for men's clothing, one for children's items.

“They are retailing this stuff in the marketplace,” said Humphreys. “It's really great that things get reused. And rather than having to buy new clothing, people are buying clothes at a lower price and then they can use their income for housing, education and food.”

Clothing for a Cause raised about $106,000 for Haiti Arise in 2016, she said. That represents 20 per cent of the revenue, with the rest going toward infrastructure and maintenance, she said.

“My background is social work, and I never intended to be running a trucking company,” said Humphreys. “I would rather be on the ground working day-to-day than worrying about if a truck has new tires, but I kind of hold on to what's going on in Haiti.”

Working with Haiti Arise Ministries allows her to give Haitian people a hand up from thousands of miles away. The church-based organization was founded by Marc and Lisa Honorat and is located in Grand-Goave.

From running schools and medical clinics to providing senior's outreach, constructing clean water wells and operating an orphanage, Haiti Arise aims to improve the outlook of Haitian people.

Humphreys has also started a legal aid clinic in Petit Goave, called the Bureau d'Assistance Judiciare, in conjunction with Haiti Arise. It came about when a young man they were putting through school found himself in trouble and Haiti Arise members discovered how bad prison conditions were.

“Basically, there's no public defenders, so if you get arrested you're in there indefinitely,” said Humphreys. “You can't even get in front of a judge unless your family or friends or church or something can get you a lawyer.”

She said people die in prison regularly due to overcrowding and the fact the Haitian government can't afford to feed its prisoners. Families line up outside prisons to bring food, which is a hardship because many of them are poor, she said.

Running an organization at home that helps people in such dire situations is a great feeling, said Humphreys. She also travels to Haiti on a regular basis to work with the people directly.

“My heart really is for the Haitian people and I see so many wonderful things happening,” said Humphreys. “It's absolutely amazing how things are changing since the earthquake.”

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