Declutter for a Cause 2014: The Fundraiser That Dressed Up a Community
Alvarez was tempted to spend her electric-bill money on a nice-looking number in Sen'ari's size, but instead she grabbed a too-short suit from the sale rack. Sen, as Alvarez calls him, had a great time dancing and never noticed that his pant legs were grazing the tops of his socks.
But Alvarez was frustrated. A youth educator, doula and radio show host, she'd always been known for practical solutions to tough problems. When a friend was diagnosed with brain cancer, Alvarez helped raise $20,000 to put toward her treatment. For years she'd co-organized volunteer projects—cleaning community gardens, donating school supplies—with her girlfriends. Now she wondered why she knew of no charities dedicated to helping young men dress for proms, graduations, job interviews and weddings. If she had struggled to buy Sen'ari a suit, how did parents with three kids manage? There were groups that funneled secondhand prom dresses to girls. Clearly, someone needed to start a similar organization for boys.
Alvarez decided to do it herself. In the fall of 2012, she began dragging Sen to the far ends of Queens and Brooklyn to collect donated suits, shirts, ties and shoes. "I never want a kid from my neighborhood to miss an opportunity," she says, "just because he has nothing to wear." In 2013, Alvarez outfitted ten boys for prom, arranging some hand-offs of donated clothes at a local café and delivering others by hand.
But Prom King, as she named her organization, still consisted only of Alvarez, her subway card and her inexhaustible stamina—until, late one night, she was scrolling through O's website and saw an advertisement for the magazine's second annual Declutter for a Cause contest. O and organizing guru Peter Walsh had challenged readers to submit proposals for charity yard sales in their towns, with Walsh promising to help bring one reader's event to fruition.
"When you read about decluttering in magazines, it's always in suburbia," Alvarez says. "But what if you want to declutter in the hood?" She imagined an event that would let Bronx residents donate clothes to help men and boys in their own backyard; the bounty would be sold at low prices to raise money for Prom King. "My donors don't have to be rich," Alvarez says. "They just have to have a couple of extra shirts."
She clicked SEND and forgot about her entry—until an O editor called to say her proposal had been chosen. "Evelyn's idea came from a personal place," says Walsh. "And it was clear from her email that she was a powerhouse."
"I was like, For real?!" says Alvarez. But during her first call with Walsh, she was so overwhelmed (what if she couldn't pull this off?) that she told her friend Nneka she might decline. Nneka said, "Are you crazy?"
It was the jolt Alvarez needed. She emailed Walter E. Puryear III, director of the Andrew Freedman Home, a majestic estate built in the Bronx in the 1920s that now serves as a community artist work space. Puryear donated use of the venue for the event and asked one of his artists in residence, Aaron Lazansky-Olivas, to design an illustration for the program. Between working three jobs and ferrying Sen'ari to and from school, Alvarez emailed friends on the city council for help nailing down donation drop-off centers. Walsh contacted You Move Me, a moving company owned by 1-800-GOT-JUNK? founder and CEO Brian Scudamore (who is also a friend), which agreed to do home pickups of donations. O's designers whipped up a flier, and Alvarez shared it online. Sen'ari gave the event its name: The Bronx Suits Up!