UAY gives back to local needy teens


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Piles of sweaters, pants, shoes, and hygienic items sat on top of a dozen tables Wednesday. Lines of people holding trash bags wound around each table and surrounded the room.

Through the chaos, the scene provides clothing to teenagers in the Iowa City area who may not otherwise have the opportunity. The event, organized by United Action for Youth, is especially important as the cold winter months approach.

“We haven’t had much cold weather, but more people are becoming homeless,” said Stephanie Van Housen, the Iowa City School District homeless liaison. “Then it hits them hard later on. The thing the [United Action for Youth] is doing is great, a lot of families are really happy with it.”

On Wednesday night, United Action for Youth, 410 Iowa Ave., held its third-annual clothing drive, which helped youth in the Iowa City community find free pants, shoes, coats, and other clothing for winter.

“The reason it started was because we had heard of kids that were embarrassed to go to school without a coat,” United Action for Youth clothing drive co-coordinator Elena Rodriguez said. “A lot of them don’t have the opportunity to go out to the store and get those clothes.”

The clothes were available to teenagers from ages 12 to18 regardless of their financial situation.

“I always get new clothes when I need them,” 15-year-old Heather Villrreal said. “But I think it’s good to have [a clothing drive] because it’s not fair for kids to have to wear old clothes that are worn out.”

Madeline Van Horn, 13, said she only owned one long-sleeved shirt, but got some sweaters and a coat from the drive.

“I moved here from Tennessee, so I didn’t have to dress that warm,” Van Horn explained.

In the last two years, United Action for Youth provided items to roughly 125 teenagers. After the first hour and a half of  Wednesday’s drive, roughly 100 teenagers walked away with new clothes.

The level of poverty has risen in past years, with youth being greatly impacted. In Johnson County, the number of youth ages 17 and under who fell below the poverty level jumped from 9 percent in 2000 to 12.5 percent in 2010, according to the Child and Family Policy Center.

The Shelter House in Iowa City is also doing its part. One official said the organization served 58 people between the ages of 6 and 17 last year. The Shelter House helps prevent youth from staying home without a guardian.

“Kids that come here with parents or guardians have limitation of space,” said Shelter House Executive Director Crissy Canganelli. “They don’t have that much space to store items, so sometimes all they come here with are the clothes on their back.”

Wednesday’s clothing drive relied completely on donations from companies like CVS, Walmart and Target. Numerous stores and churches also provided clothing for United Action for Youth. Officials said they believe the clothes offered at the drive must be stylish enough that teenagers would want to wear them.

“The thing [United Action for Youth] does is great because teenagers will wear the clothes provided,” Van Housen said. “They wouldn’t want to necessarily wear hand-me-downs or adult clothes.”

Although Rodriguez did not specifically hear positive feedback from the shoppers at the clothing drive, she thinks the numbers speak for themselves.

“I’ve heard lots of great things from the community, the businesses that have donated,” she said. “As for the teens, I feel like the proof is the kids going out with handfuls of stuff.”

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