Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: March Edition

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Our Monthly Volunteer Spotlight is back to showcase a top-notch individual who has volunteered her or his time to Central City Concern, our programs, and those we serve. This month, meet Traci Kinden, who took on a gigantic challenge and has blown away expectations about what a volunteer is capable of doing. She’s contributed more than 190 hours of service since October 2014!

Name: Traci Kinden

Position: Textile Management and Recycling Volunteer

What are your volunteer duties?
When I first started, it was primarily a lot of sorting and thinking through how Central City Concern can better utilize all the clothing collected from abandoned property in its housing.

Currently, and for the majority of my time here, my primary duties are more working to set up a hub for abandoned property to come in and be screened, sorted, and prepared for redistribution.

The goal is to allow case managers, as well as CCC clients and residents, to access the clothing we have available. We want to be able to allow anyone with a closet to access what we have at the hub and fill up their closet with clothing that’s been left behind and approved and prepared for reuse.

Where does all of that abandoned property come from?
When people go through big transitions in their lives, especially around matters of homelessness and/or recovery, sometimes they can’t stay where they are, and that often results in property being left behind. So in order to decrease the amount of things that end up in the landfill, I’m working with CCC to take in the clothing and get it sorted and distributed for reuse so that we can help other people who have challenges get to where they need to be.

The volunteer role you initially applied for was the Clothing and In-Kind Donation Organizer position. What you just described seems much broader than what that position called for. How did that happen?
The conversation [when trying to find out the best volunteer fit for me] started off focused on helping to organize donations. I met with Eric [Reynolds, CCC’s Volunteer Coordinator] and Catharine [Hunter, CCC’s Donor Relations Manager] and chatted about who I am, what I wanted to do, and what I can contribute.

And that quickly turned into meeting EV [Armitage, head of CCC’s staff-run Green Team Committee], after which I learned that there was a need to set up something like a clothing closet system using the tons of abandoned clothing collected from across CCC’s housing units. That was more in line with that I wanted to do.

It started as figuring out what Central City Concern can do with clothes. Now, it’s developing a larger strategy to help CCC become more efficient in managing their own secondhand property and redistributing it to people who are being served. The idea is to allow groups like CCC to focus on what their mission truly is and have textiles and clothing be a value added benefit.

What drew you to Central City Concern?
I’ve tried to be pretty active in volunteering the past handful of years. I like CCC because you have a very broad reach and you make your services available regardless of whether or not somebody has a specific belief system. CCC meets people where they’re at and I really respect that.

I’ve seen the things that you guys do and wanted to learn a little bit more. So I dug into the website to see what volunteer opportunities there were. I saw one that had to do with sorting donated clothing and it just so happened that I was searching specifically for textile volunteering opportunities. Secondhand clothing management and recycling has really become my area of expertise.

I wanted to help more people get clothing. I wanted to help increase the efficiency of that textile management process here. For me, I wanted to learn more about working within a nonprofit organization for this purpose.

How did you become an expert in secondhand clothing (or textile) management and recycling?
I have a background in graphic design, which led to a job printing designs onto fabrics. In the process, I learned a lot about how much textile waste there is in the US.

Americans generate 24 billion pounds of textile waste every year, and we throw away 85% of that. That’s a big number and a big problem. And the bigger issue there is that we are wasting water, wasting energy, wasting chemistry. Additionally, there’s a lot of human labor that goes into creating the garments we wear and end up throwing away.

So that got me thinking: how do we reduce waste that provides some community benefit and how do we do that to have an impact in the US?

You run a company that deals in the work of textile management called REvolve. Can you tell me more about that?
REvolve does three things:

1) We help nonprofits increase textile management efficiencies. My preference is to work with nonprofits that don’t run thrift programs but wind up managing clothing and other fabrics as part of their workstream, just like CCC does with abandoned property and donations.

2) We work on ways to recycle more fabric. We find the waste (stuff not rewearable in its current form) that comes through donations and is collected in abandoned property and try to collect enough of it in one place to get it to a recycler.

3) We educate. There’s a big knowledge gap when it comes to recycling textiles. There are a lot of people who work at companies that understand sustainability, but when it comes to the textile wastestream, there’s not a lot of knowledge there. Especially for people in or going into fashion and softwear industry. 

Why do you choose to volunteer?
I look around Portland and I’ve watched homelessness grow. I can’t imagine how difficult it can be to live life on the street. If I can do something to help someone transition out of that and get into a better place, I want to do it so it can help them get to a place where their potential isn’t wasted.

Volunteering with organizations that work directly with people – in any way, to help people get to a better place – has been the most grounding and rewarding thing I could do with my time. Period.

People are people are people. When I walk home after volunteering, it’s like crossing from one world into another. People usually don’t cross those boundaries. Crossing some of those barriers that we put between each other or have been put there makes the world more real and it opens your eyes to the breadth of humanity, not just your own window.

There’s been so much momentum. I put in a little bit, and ten times the energy comes back from everyone I work with and that’s really powerful.

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If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities, contact Eric Reynolds, CCC’s Volunteer Coordinator, at eric.reynolds@ccconcern.org.