Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein may attract more attention with their flashy ads, but a Houston rabbi has perfected another model when it comes to selling underwear.
Undies for Everyone, a nonprofit founded by Houston Rabbi Amy Weiss, has distributed more than 4 million pairs of underwear to those in need since 2012.
Rabbi Weiss turned an idea she blogged about in 2008 into an operation that spans 15 cities in nine states and with thousands of volunteers helping countless children.
“We know that children who do not wear underwear may not show up to school because they are too embarrassed, which could lead them to drop out,” Rabbi Weiss told the YHV. “We want the children to stay confident and stay in school.
“We are the only nonprofit in the United States that focuses on providing underwear to children on a national basis. Nobody else offers that on a large scale. That gives children the basic need that many of us take for granted. “
Undies for Everyone – who cares for children ages 3-15 – works with the homelessness departments of Texas’s largest school districts, child protection services, pediatric mobile units and chalkboards, including the Houston Food Bank’s Children’s Cafe program, to distribute underwear.
Beyond Texas – with a focus on Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Rio Grande Valley – Undies for Everyone recently launched its services in Atlanta, Albuquerque, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Miami, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Washington, DC
In 2021, Undies for Everyone will distribute 738,000 pairs of underwear to 105,000 children in 15 cities.
Members of many Houston synagogues and Jewish organizations have volunteered their time and resources over the years to help.
About a dozen volunteers from the Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism gathered on July 31st to open boxes, separate underwear, and package them for distribution.
“I grew up in a similar situation to some of these children, so I know that something like clean underwear can go a long way,” HCRJ member Bru James told the Annual General Meeting.
“It’s really exciting to be back here helping so they can bring more lingerie to the kids. What they do is very effective. “
When HCRJ started a social action group in 2016, Undies for Everyone was one of the first go-to places to volunteer.
“It has always been important for HCRJ to give something back,” Synagogue’s program director Justin Deutsch told the YHV as he folded Superman underwear and packed it for distribution.
“It was a challenging year for everyone, including children. If we can do something, even on a small scale, to increase their self-esteem, that’s great. “
Volunteers also host virtual drives that send QR codes and links so people can order underwear on Amazon, where volunteers come together to unpack boxes, separate and repackage underwear to ship to those in need.
Personal volunteering was put on hold for 14 months at the start of the pandemic, but underwear for everyone reopened to the public this May. However, production continued smoothly during the pandemic as Rabbi Weiss was able to streamline and expand the process after finding a lower-cost manufacturer that also offers drop shipping in every city.
Undies for Everyone’s expansion includes a new distribution center in Houston and five employees overseeing its growing operations.
Rabbi Weiss has also worked with volunteer groups in other cities to buy and package underwear for local partners to distribute to even more youth.
“I could never have imagined that 10 years later we would be where we are today,” said Rabbi Weiss. “Four million underwear have been distributed since we were founded – that’s a crazy number.
“Every partner we have is so grateful for what we do because nobody else does it.”
The Jewish value of helping the needy continues to drive Rabbi Weiss.
“The most important thing we do is look at the leaders of Maimonides of Tzedakah,” said Rabbi Weiss. “One of the best ways to give is when the giver doesn’t know the recipient and the recipient doesn’t know the giver.
“I always imagined Undies for Everyone like this: We don’t hang up children’s pictures and we don’t meet our customers. It’s a matter of dignity and privacy, and that’s the most important thing.
“What we do is Tikkun Olam in a very unique way, and that changes many, many lives.”