OAKLAND -- Laura Graham's clothing charity "1 Closet, Teen 2 Teen Giving," has clearly become a success story.
To date, the 16-year-old Bishop O'Dowd High School junior has gathered and donated about 7,000 garments, which have helped more than 800 East Bay teens. Graham collects gently used clothing from teens and donates them to less fortunate teens.
"I don't want it to be like a charity," she said. "I want it to be like we are sharing."
Graham's efforts haven't gone unnoticed -- she received a Red Cross Community Service Hero Award and a Jefferson Award in October. The idea for the project came out of a dinner table conversation between Graham and her parents. One of her father's colleagues had just adopted a foster child and Graham was struck by how little the child had.
"Foster kids get nothing, about $224 a year for clothes," she said. "I thought about how I discard my clothes like it's nothing."
Graham shared her idea with a manager at an American Eagle store.
"I asked her what they did with their leftover jeans at the end of the year," Graham said. "She (the manager) motivated me."
Graham began to move her project forward in 2011, during the fall of her sophomore year. She has successfully organized a number of clothing drives in many of the East Bay's more affluent high schools and the clothes she's collected have been donated to local charities such as Lincoln Child Center, Boys and Girls Clubs, Foster
"It's neat to see my clients wearing the clothes," said Cassandre Deleonecheverria, of the Lincoln Child Center in Oakland. "It makes them feel better about themselves."
It also empowers them, points out Deleonecheverria, who works with middle and high school youth.
"It's neat that she is a high school student just like them," she said. "It how them that they can help others."
Graham's headquarters is her former playhouse, although donations occasionally spill into other parts of the house. Graham sorts the donations by type of clothing and size, then compiles boxes for individual teens. One of her biggest challenges is that she sometimes doesn't have the right sizes. She admits to buying clothes to complete boxes.
"I want everyone's box to be equal," she said.
Each box is personalized for the recipient.
"What's unique about Laura is that she wants to know the ages, gender and size of the recipients and she responds quickly." Deleonecheverria said.
"It's important to reach out to teens who may feel like they are alone and nobody cares," said Laura Graham's mother, Sue Graham.
"I want this to be different," said the teenage Graham. "I want this to be teen to teen giving, not an adult giving to a child."
A few months ago, "1 Closet" attained 501C3 nonprofit status which Graham anticipates will open up further opportunities to receive donations, especially from retail establishments.
"I had no idea this would take off," Graham said. "I've learned to be thankful for what I have and that anything is possible. A little effort can go a long way."
For more information about "1 Closet," visit http://www.1-closet.com/