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Student-led Clothing Drive Combats Fast Fashion, Homelessness

GILFORD — Delilah Smock, 17, could be described as a stereotypical high school student. She’s a talented athlete in both softball and snowboarding, and at the top of her class. And, in addition to all that, Delilah spends a lot of her time in the Environmental Club at Gilford High School fighting to improve the issues that plague the Earth, things like recycling, reducing humanity’s carbon footprint and undertaking clothing waste.

Delilah became interested in sustainable practices after taking an environmental class in middle school, and has always had an interest in the environment. Her father, Ryan Smock, can attest to Delilah’s passion as an environmentalist.

“She’s been trying to save the world since she was a little kid,” he said. “She would catch bugs in the house and bring them outside, instead of stomping on them. … Yelling at me if I forget to bring the reusable grocery bags to the grocery store and I come home with plastic. … This is her, and it’s awesome.”

One of the Environmental Club’s most recent undertakings is a clothing drive to combat fast fashion.

“Fast fashion” is a concept generally thought to have popped up in the 1990s. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”

To some, fast fashion sounds great; an affordable way to be in vogue. But clothing trends come and go very quickly, which encourage people to buy more. According to an article in the Environmental Health journal titled “The global environmental injustice of fast fashion” in 2018, 80 billion pieces of new clothing are purchased each year globally, which translates to roughly $1.2 trillion annually for the global fashion industry. According to 2018 research by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 85% of all textiles produced in a given year end up in landfills. Delilah is doing what she can to combat this issue, but believes people aren’t taking this as seriously as they need to.

“I think it’s unfair that only certain people care about something that’s so prominent around the world,” Delilah said. “The world is essentially being overrun with waste [and] I think it’s something that everyone should care about.”

As unofficial co-president of the Environmental Club, Delilah took matters into her own hands by starting a clothing drive. She placed bins near the front entrance of the school during the holiday craft fair on Dec. 2, where she received a large sum of clothes, and the next week, she also accepted donations from students before classes started. She had additional help from her mother Barbie Pratt, who works as a bartender at Ellacoya Barn & Grille, who helped collecting donations from patrons who came into the restaurant. She also received donations from The Breeze restaurant, a sister eatery of the Barn & Grille.

When they first started the clothing drive, Delilah and her mother didn’t know what to do with the clothes they would accumulate. It quickly dawned on them to achieve two goals in one by fighting fast fashion while also serving the local community by making donations to people experiencing homelessness.

Delilah likes to spend her free time walking through downtown Laconia, oftentimes with her boyfriend. But she mentioned how it’s hard to be downtown without seeing the effects of homelessness on the city. Pratt and Delilah’s father, who live in Gilmanton, agreed. They say homelessness has become more visible than ever in Laconia.

“Ryan and I grew up here. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see how bad of a problem it is,” Pratt said. “When we were kids, we didn’t see a lot of this.”

When searching for a way to help, Pratt read about Kenzo Morris’ sleepout in the beginning of November, where he slept outside in a makeshift tent for three nights to raise money for the Helping Hands soup kitchen at Real Life Church. This inspired her to talk to her daughter about donating the clothes to the soup kitchen. After volunteering at the soup kitchen, the mother-daughter team cemented the plan. Morris was grateful they chose the soup kitchen to help those in need.

“I am just absolutely blown away by her kindness and her mother’s kindness,” Morris said. “To be so thoughtful and caring, and be that young, and to be aware of that. It says a lot, you know, about our next generation coming up.”

After collecting, sorting, and bagging two SUV trunks’ worth of clothing, Delilah and her parents brought the clothes to the soup kitchen. The clothes were immediately unpacked into the parking lot. Volunteers sorted the clothing for easy of viewing and taking while people in need selected what they needed. Morris was pleased with the donations, seeing a lot of winter clothing.

“This is absolutely amazing, because we got a plethora of stuff,” Morris said. “Jackets and socks and hats and mittens and lots of warm things.”

Delilah and her parents watched in satisfaction. In an interview with her parents, both teared up when talking about how proud they were of their daughter.

“I guess the fact that I’m as verklempt as I am right now kind of just says it all,” her father said. “We’ve got the most amazing kid in the world. We just do.”

For anyone looking to contribute to this cause, Delilah asks everyone during the Christmas season to be mindful of excess purchases, and to give back to the community by donating used clothing. But this practice isn’t limited to the holiday season.

“Even if you have clothing that you don’t want, instead of throwing it away, donating it to a secondhand distribution facility is always a better alternative for people in need,” she said. “I’m hoping that this kind of leaves a message throughout the community that it’s not only about giving back during the holidays, but it’s something that you can do every day.”

But as a 17-year-old, Delilah has aspirations beyond sustainability. She wants to travel, experiencing different cultures different from her own. She hopes to expand her worldview outside of New Hampshire, where she has grown up. Yet event her dreams of world travel are influenced by her work as an environmentalist.

“I think traveling is really the only way to understand the extent to which waste and environmental problems are impacting everyone, especially the natural world, animals and plants,” she said. “We only experienced one sort of climate living in one place, so if I can see everything then I think that’s the best way to having a better understanding of everyone in every situation.”

Delilah will continue to expand her impact in college. She hopes to study environmental sustainability and is applying to the University of Vermont, University of New England, Bates College and Middlebury College. But while Delilah was proud of the impact she had with the clothing drive, she believes it’s still not enough.

“The clothing drive is a small piece, but if it’s something that we can get the word out about and people can understand the lasting impacts of all this exponential waste that’s going on, it might help future generations try to clean up the mess that is being left on the world,” she said.

Source: The Laconia Daily Sun