As a child I was no stranger to thrift shops and hand me downs; it’s how my family survived. When you live in a small, rural town the economy dictates your life, especially when both of your parents lack a decent education. You're stuck with government assistance, but we somehow always made it. We ate every day, had a roof over our heads and had clothes on our back.
But what happens if you're someone who doesn't have those luxuries? How do you sustain? How do you cloth yourself? How do you eat? Where do you go? Many communities offer answers to the aforementioned questions, but a particular question still stands: where does the money for these luxuries come from? Many people are familiar with Goodwill and the Salvation Army, two organizations who resell clothing, housewares, shoes and everything in between. But these items aren't free. What does one do when the spare change you have if barely enough to cover bus fare?
Madison Fanta, creator of Maddie's Helping Hands came up with a simple solution for those in need of clothing: accept donations from others and give them to people who can't afford thrifting.
“When I was younger I used to go to the pantry that my grandmother works at. And I saw a whole bunch of people in need of clothing since all of theirs were either old or they just [didn’t] have a lot to wear. So I decided to bring in clothes that my family had that we were giving away, that way other people could have some [clothing]. And then eventually more and more people started donating, so we asked the pantry if we could open a shop upstairs, and they said we could. Then we opened a shop and a whole bunch more people started donating. We set it up, now people can go up there for free to shop for clothing,” Fanta said.
While there are many organizations that are focused on helping the less fortunate, Maddie’s Helping Hands is different: Madison doesn’t charge for the clothes in her shop. People are able to come up for free and grab a bag of clothing.
“Well a lot of the people I knew didn’t even have money for food, so I didn’t think that they would have money for clothes if they couldn’t even afford the food that they needed,” Fanta said. “Since we have so many areas of clothing and since we have so much of it usually we allow them to take up to a bag full, like a plastic bag. But if they have a coat or shoes then we’ll allow them two [bags] just so they can carry it.”
In general, when you see big, non-profit organizations there’s a big business tycoon running the show, but this is not the case. Fanta is a freshman in high school and she’s running a non-profit organization; sorry Class of 2020 but it looks like Fanta already has the college resume ball rolling.
“I get a lot of help from the people at the pantry, especially since my nana works there. So it’s really easy to ask for help, and to allow other people to be a part of my organization,” Fanta said.
While Fanta is responsible for creating the organization, it’s a team effort to keep the organization alive.
“The ladies that work at the pantry will sometimes go upstairs if we have a huge load; they will help us sort them [the donated clothes]. They’re so sweet and some of them they knit scarves and hats so we can give those away too,” Fanta said.
Being a student myself, I feel as if clubs around the school are constantly asking for donations for various charities. While Fanta’s school doesn’t partner with her organization, the community surrounding Maddie’s Helping Hands has an effect on the donations received.
“Not at my school, but the pantry that I work at is off of a school. St. Franciscan [Stanislaus in East Chicago]. They’ll help donate some, and the pantry that I work at also collaborates with a church that’s nearby so then they help with donations too,” Fanta said.
Even though Fanta is only a freshman, college is just a few short years away. With a growing organization on her hands, Fanta plans to continue developing her organization when she goes away to college.
“Yes I do [plan on developing my organization when I go off to college], because I see it to where I can still be helping people even if I’m going to college. And other people so much in it that it’s not like I have to be there 100% of the time to where it can’t continue,” Fanta said.
Maddie’s Helping Hands is located at St. Vincent DePaul at St. Francis de Sales on the southeast side of Chicago.