Original Article can be found on ExpressNews.com.
Cathy Hamilton smiles as she takes a quick break in her shop, San Antonio Threads, a charity where children and teens who are in foster care or are homeless can get new clothes and shoes for free. Hamilton started the nonprofit to help kids build self-confidence. As a victim of abuse when she was a teen, Hamilton knows the importance of retaining dignity in difficult times.
Lila Agiza (right) who volunteers at San Antonio Threads, helps a young person make a selection on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Cathy Hamilton owns San Antonio Threads, a charity where foster and homeless children and teens shop for new clothes for free. She started the nonprofit for youth in need because when she looks in their eyes she sees herself when she was a teen-aged victim of abuse.
Manuel Ornelas, student services coordinator at Southside ISD picks up backpacks prepared by employees and volunteers at San Antonio Threads on Friday, Aug. 10, 2019. San Antonio Threads, founded by Cathy Hamilton, is a charity where foster and homeless children and teens shop for new, free clothes and shoes.
Cathy Hamilton sees kids on what is often one of the worst days of their lives.
The children tend to be in a fragile state when they arrive at San Antonio Threads, removed from abusive homes into the care of the state, headed to a homeless shelter or about to be shuttled to a foster residence.
Some arrive at Hamilton’s Northeast Side clothing boutique wearing stained, tattered clothes or shoes that are barely held together.
Hamilton still marvels at the surprised looks on their faces when staff members invite them into rooms painted a cheerful ocean blue and tell them they can choose two outfits and a pair of shoes from the racks and shelves.
Many are mystified — why would a stranger give them free, new clothes?
Because Hamilton has been there herself. As a young child and teen, she and her family endured violent abuse from her stepfather in Houston for 18 years. It ended when her mother shot and killed the man who had terrorized them for so long.
“Then we were able to live our lives without fear,” she said.
Hamilton knows there’s self-esteem and confidence to be had in getting to choose what you’re going to wear, something that’s new, fits you and is all yours — no hand-me-downs — so she started San Antonio Threads.
All teens deserve to shop with dignity, she said, although many of them think nobody cares.
“We are proving them wrong,” Hamilton said. “We show them that we do care.”
In the last three years, San Antonio Threads has clothed more than 2,000 youth, ages 12 to 21, from across the city.
Recently, the program received a major boost: Philanthropist Kym Rapier donated $3 million to the small nonprofit, which will allow the organization to almost double the number of teens who receive free clothes this year.
“I couldn’t sleep when I had the check for $3 million,” Hamilton said, laughing. “I couldn’t wait to get it into our bank account in the morning.”
After her daughters had grown up and started lives of their own, Hamilton turned to community work, in particular working with child abuse victims.
She became a court-appointed special advocate with Child Advocates San Antonio and saw the need for helping kids regain their dignity.
Hamilton remembers when she first met Gloria Martinez, then 13, at a group home in Waco. Martinez and other girls were digging through boxes and a barrel, sifting through used underwear that had been bleached.
She kept in touch with the young teen as she moved from place to place. There didn’t seem to ever be anything that fit Martinez well or was for the right season — shoes in the wrong size, no jackets in the winter, clean but used clothes that didn’t fit.
That didn’t set right with Hamilton.
“Clothing has memories,” Hamilton said. “And those old clothes have bad memories. We need to give them new memories and a fresh start.”
So she came up with the idea of a store filled with new clothes, shoes and accessories for boys and girls in need, along with private dressing rooms, just like Macy’s or Kohl’s. She raised money, collected donations and made porch pickups.
It wasn’t long before the doors to San Antonio Threads opened in 2016. With the help of Rapier’s gift, the nonprofit will expand to Austin in December and another store will open in Houston next year.
“I broke that cycle (of abuse).” Hamilton said. “I just wanted to be a good person, I didn’t want to be what I saw every day.”