St. Mary Magdalen School finds new uses for old uniforms

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Students at St. Peter’s School in Lusaka, Zambia, wear uniform sweater vests that were donated by St. Mary Magdalen School in Everett. Photo: Nick Lew, Seattle Academy Students at St. Peter’s School in Lusaka, Zambia, wear uniform sweater vests that were donated by St. Mary Magdalen School in Everett. Photo: Nick Lew, Seattle Academy

EVERETT – When St. Mary Magdalen School decided last spring that students had to buy new uniform vests, the staff made sure they found a way to put the old ones to good use.

Now, some 90 students at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Lusaka, Zambia, are wearing the vests with St. Mary Magdalen’s school logo on them.

With the help of the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Missions Office, the rest were donated to Ragfinery, a Bellingham-based nonprofit tasked with getting textiles out of the waste system while providing a job training to people in need.

The vest “crisis” happened because the school’s uniform supplier was discontinuing the dark hunter green that St. Mary Magdalen had been using, in favor of a lighter green.

After much discussion, the school decided to require the new green for everyone. “We can’t have two colors going simultaneously,” said kindergarten teacher Katie White. One sweater color unifies the student body, she explained.

So the school gathered about 1,000 sweaters in the old color from the school community, White said.

White began the hunt for a place to reuse the uniform sweaters. Local thrift stores weren’t an option, because someone might buy a vest and donate it back to the school, she said.

Katie White
Katie White

So White contacted some 30 organizations, including the Missions Office, which provided information about Ragfinery as well as Seattle Academy for Arts and Sciences, a private school that has a partnership with schools in Zambia.

Ragfinery, which has prevented 800,000 pounds of textiles from going into landfills, received $25,000 in annual funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development from 2013 to 2015, according to Kelly Hickman, assistant director of the Missions Office, who coordinates the campaign here.

“We find organizations that are based on an empowerment model,” Hickman said of CCHD, the U.S. bishops’ domestic antipoverty program. It awards grants to organizations that help unskilled workers and fill a need in the community. (The annual Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection in parishes is slated for Sept. 16-17.)

Ragfinery works with local artisans to repurpose unwanted clothes and provide training needed to enter the textile industry.

“We’re just trying to find as many uses for these used garments that we can,” said Shan Sparling, Ragfinery program manager. Some are sold in the Ragfinery store, while others are sent to be compressed into 1,000-pound bales before being sold to organizations such as Goodwill.

When White contacted Seattle Academy, its partners in Zambia identified St. Peter’s as a school that had been seeking donated uniforms. It was unsuccessful because donors and the school couldn’t pay the high shipping costs, Seattle Academy teacher Melinda Mueller said in an email.

But Seattle Academy sends a team of students and teachers to Zambia every summer. So White sorted and packed the vests and delivered them to the Seattle Academy team that was heading to Zambia in mid-July. The team then helped match each of the 90 students with a vest that fit.

“This is teamwork at its finest,” St. Mary Magdalen School said on its website. 

Help the cause

Organizations like Ragfinery are supported by the annual collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

CCHD, the domestic antipoverty program of the U.S. bishops, “works to break the cycle of poverty by helping low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families and communities,” according to the campaign’s website. The campaign also educates people about poverty and its causes.

The campaign is supported by an annual collection in parishes; this year’s collection is slated for Sept. 16-17.