Q&A: Jessica Smith, Creator of “The Holiday Social” Clothing Drive for Philly’s Underprivileged Youth

Carl Williams from North East Centers picks up donated clothes to be distributed to the needy. Photo By Joshua Albert

Carl Williams from North East Centers picks up donated clothes to be distributed to the needy. Photo By Joshua Albert

By Joshua Albert

On Wednesday, December 17th, “The Holiday Social” kicks off its first annual clothing drive and fashion show. I interviewed Jessica Smith, the event’s creator, over email recently to find out the particulars of how she got this initiative off the ground.

The event has sold out as of today.

What inspired you to put together this event? 

You want the truth? Cleaning my room inspired me. Two weeks before Thanksgiving I was cleaning and organizing and thought, ‘I need to get rid of some clothes, this is ridiculous!” I usually drop off clothes to a local thrift shop or Goodwill, but then I realized that all of those clothes were just going to be re-sold in stores. I then had an epiphany that instead of doing that, I should help out people who really need the clothes this season, especially with the holiday coming up. Being into fashion and helping children especially, I came up with this idea and I’ve been sprinting to make it happen ever since.

Who will primarily benefit from the clothing donations?

As many underprivileged and less-fortunate kids as I can help.

All of the clothes will be divided up and donated to these three organizations I’m working with:

1) Cradles to Crayons who takes donations for kids 0-12

2) Northeast Treatment Centers who directly works with foster kids, or kids who find themselves in terrible situations at home.

3) MLK Recreation Center – They work directly with unfortunate younger kids in Philadelphia, making sure they stay involved in recreational activities, especially in the 22nd district.

Were you surprised by the overwhelming response of donations?

Overwhelmed is an understatement. When I had this idea and started curating the event, I didn’t think I was going to have a lot of clothing donations, nor was I going to build such buzz about an event. In fact I was afraid that I’d only have about 30 people in attendance. Within 3-4 weeks, my apartment was overflowing with bags of donations, and people I didn’t even know were calling and reaching out to me to find out more about the event. It makes me feel great that people appreciate what I’m doing, but it makes me feel even better knowing all of these people want to support the cause.

Jessica Smith stands in her office with a portion of the clothes donated.

Jessica Smith stands in her office with a portion of the clothes donated. Photo By Joshua Albert

Who has been doing most of the donations and how have you connected with these people? Social media? Friends?

Social media helped tremendously. I put some notice out to my friends and my network, and people were connecting with me from all over to give me anything they had.

Because it’s the holidays, I think people are realizing that sure, going out and spending money on other “things” for your loved ones is great; But giving things that we don’t need to people who can’t go out and spend money every year, is something much more worth-while.

Exactly how many bags of clothes do you think you’ve received?

I tried to count, but I lost track after 50. If I had to estimate how many articles of clothing I received, without question I can say I’ve collected way over 2,000 articles of clothing.

You’ll be using donated clothes for a fashion show, can you tell me more about that? You’re working with other stylist? Models?

So, everything that’s donated is sorted into different bags: Winter clothes, jackets, pants, summer-stuff, baby stuff, etc. Out of all of those clothes, I had volunteers (Shout out to them!) help me pick out the most unique items for the show. About 200 items will be used in the show. There are 12-15 kids participating as models, all of them whom come from the youth organizations I’m working with. The stylists will race to to dress the kids up for the runway using the items I’ve selected, and the kids get to keep all of the outfits they modeled in the end, and more.

In saying that, these kids aren’t real models, and the stylists aren’t real stylists. These kids need to feel special this holiday season, so I chose 6 influential and awesome people from the Philadelphia area that I knew would be great role models to these children to be my stylists for the show. The kids are very excited and so are my “stylists,” I feel very lucky with the people who agreed to be involved.

Donated clothes are loaded in elevator to be distributed to various charities.  Photo by Joshua Albert

Donated clothes are loaded in elevator to be distributed to various charities. Photo by Joshua Albert

Tell me more about your background, age, where you’re from, and experience doing stuff like this in the past?

I’m 23, and from a small beach town in New Jersey. I moved to Philadelphia about 5 years ago to attend Temple University. I always knew I wanted to be in a city because I loved people, and being that Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love, I felt I could do a lot here to make a difference. During my tenure at Temple University, I volunteered as a mentor for foster teenage girls for 3 years, and I fell in love with helping kids who needed guidance. In fact, the girl I specifically mentored is doing so well, I’m very proud to say I led her in the right direction – I still keep in contact with her to this day.

I’m sure we all can say, Philadelphia kids are little terrors. But I found that they truly look up to people who look out for them, and I’ve always thought we needed more people like that to gear them in the right direction and build this city from the youth up. I’ve never put any event on like this before, but I will say it won’t be the last time.

Do you plan to do this again next year?

I thought this was going to be a one-time thing to add to my resume for charity work, but with the overwhelming amounts of responses, donations, and attention the event is getting, my mindset has changed. I plan on doing this every year from here on out, making The Holiday Social bigger and better each time. More importantly, I see this helping more and more of our city’s children every year.

Any thing else you’d like to add?

This event was put together in just 5 weeks, and I’m lucky to be sitting here and saying that I’ve sold over 100+ tickets, and collected over 75+ huge bags of clothing, along with tackling all of the other detailed stuff it takes to put together something like this. I give a lot of credit to anyone who puts on events for a living. For starters, I must say that if you have an idea – don’t just think about it, make it happen. You have no idea how many lives it will touch.

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