How marathon runners help the homeless (without even knowing it)
Father-daughter team turns a common race practice into a clever opportunity to help the less fortunate.
Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 02:30 PM
Michael (right), Madi and Jack Resnic have plenty of discarded clothes to donate after a recent MLK Day race. (Photo: JoAnne Resnic)
On a chilly November morning in 2007, Michael Resnic and his 9-year-old daughter, Madi, hurried from their home near the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia to watch the city’s annual marathon. It was their first race, and they eagerly joined thousands of spectators lining the raceway to cheer on 30,000 runners. But as the giant spectacle unfolded Madi noticed something odd. The runners were casting off their hoodies, hats, shirts and gloves as the race heated up, leaving them strewn along the race route.
Perplexed, she looked up at her dad and asked, “Why are they throwing away their clothes?” It was an innocent enough question, one that might have died with a quick parental “I don’t know.” But the sheer volume of discarded clothing — most of it barely used — wasn’t something Resnic could easily brush off. Instead, he ran back to the house, grabbed a trash bag, and he and Madi stuffed it full. Later they donated the nearly 50 items to a local homeless shelter.
What started as a real-time teachable moment about waste in our throwaway society and sustainable reuse has since turned into a nonprofit group called Clothes-Pin (Clothes for People in Need), which is run by the Resnics.
“I’m sure a lot of people have seen clothing discarded at races and thought there’s got to be a better way,” says Madi, now 16 and a high school sophomore. “It’s not like I’m someone special. I’m just like anyone else who saw something and decided to do something about it. Everyone has that power.”
In the seven years since that first race, the father-daughter duo, along with a growing army of volunteers that include Madi’s friends from school and Resnic's co-workers, have collected a mountain — over 100,000 pieces — of marathon clothing. Clothes-Pin now averages 12 to 15 races a year, not only the Philadelphia Marathon but also events in Washington, D.C., Atlantic City, Baltimore, Bethlehem, Pa., and San Francisco. This year, the Resnics will also head to Boston for the Heartbreak Hill half marathon sponsored by Runner’s World magazine, and eventually hope to attend an international race. (In the photo above, Madi, wearing a red vest, and friends from school gather around the bags of discarded clothes they collected at the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon.)
Nearby folks reap the benefits
Their goal wherever they go is to make sure clothing gets to a homeless shelter near the race. “The idea is to keep clothing in the community in which it’s donated,” says Resnic, a LEED-certified architect. In many cases, shelter residents themselves turn out to lend a hand. “There’s a group of guys from Bethesda Project that we work with in Philadelphia who come almost every year to help us,” says Madi. “When you’re doing service with the people who are receiving it, it just brings a different spirit to the whole experience. It’s really special and one of my favorite parts.”
In addition to picking up discarded clothing along raceways, the Resnics have also begun donating gently used sneakers that they collect at pre-race health and fitness expos where runners typically get their race numbers and buy gear a couple of days before a marathon. In addition, Clothes-Pin also recently partnered with sports apparel retailer Athleta to place sneaker drop-off buckets in its Philadelphia-area stores.
“Runners are kind of particular about the miles on their sneakers,” says Resnic. “They give them up after 300 to 500 miles. It’s amazing how new they look, and to people on the street they’re like gold.”
Also new is a partnership with Under Armour’s “thirds” program, allowing Clothes-Pin to distribute new apparel that the sportswear maker chooses not to sell due to minor flaws in coloring or misprints. On New Year’s Day, for instance, the Resnics handed out Under Armour sweatshirts and jackets at a shelter for teens living with HIV/AIDS.
“We’ve sort of created a new model for reuse of clothing that looks a little different than the traditional model of giving to Goodwill or the Salvation Army,” says Resnic.
This is only the beginning
For the most part, it’s been a happy process of making things up as they go along and allowing Clothes-Pin to evolve organically. But the Resnics have also started thinking more about the future — deciding what they want the organization to look like in years to come and how to raise additional funds so they can keep widening their reach to more races around the nation and the world.
One thing that’s not in doubt is their full-on commitment as a family. Recently, the youngest Resnic, 10-year-old Jack, started pitching in, and Madi’s passion just keeps growing. “This may be overstated,” she says, “but I think when you do service you feel like you’ve gotten more than you’ve given. I have such a great outlook on life because of this. It will always be a part of my life.”
For Resnic, Clothes-Pin is really about spreading some love. “We’re embracing the community, we embrace our volunteers, and we embrace those less fortunate,” he says. And in return, he’s received an unexpected personal gift of his own — the kind of quality family time that most parents only dream about. “To work with your kids in a sustainable and meaningful way is an exceptional opportunity,” he adds. “I see this as something we all continue to do into the latter years of our lives.”
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Madi Resnic and friends: Jennifer Curry
Promotion photo of runners: Mikael Damkier/Shutterstock