OAKLAND (CBS 5) – An East Bay teenager has a closet like no other – she fills it with thousands of pieces of clothing to give away, a project that has earned her this week’s Jefferson Award.

“Here’s a nice athletic jersey,” Laura Graham said, holding up a blue and white shirt for a better look.

Like many teenagers, Graham is hung up on fashionable clothes. But not just for herself.

“I’ve learned that small things can become big things,” she said of her unusual project.

The 16-year-old junior at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland collects donated clothes through her nonprofit, 1 Closet. She’s given away more than 5,000 pieces of clothing to about 900 teenagers in the last year.

“There’re so many teens who are cleaning their closet and their parents are like, ‘Find a home for these, donate them to Goodwill.’ It’s like a lot of people want to find something in their community that they can give them to,” Graham explained.

She said the idea for 1 Closet started during a dinner conversation at home. Her father was talking about a friend getting ready to adopt a teenager and Graham realized she could help.

Through that dinnertime talk, Graham was surprised to learn that foster children receive a wardrobe allowance of about $200 for the whole year. So as a high school freshman in early 2011, she organized a high school drive to donate gently-used but contemporary attire. Other schools jumped in.

“Our major one was San Ramon Valley High School,” she remembered. “They donated so much. It was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy!'”

Since founding 1 Closet, she’s worked with about 15 high schools to collect and distribute clothing for low income kids at the Boys and Girls Clubs and social services agencies throughout the East Bay.

“They were so happy and actually one of the leaders at the Boys and Girls Club was crying,” Graham said. “That made me realize it wasn’t even a big deal for me until I realized what a big deal it was for them.”

Fifteen-year-old Chynna Edwards is picking clothes from 1 Closet. She says it shows someone cares.

“It means a lot because I don’t have a lot,” Edwards said. “So to have someone willing to give to me, it helps a lot.”

Judy Reed, executive director of the West Contra Costa Salesian Boys and Girls Club, said the donations clothe students with confidence.

“Helps ’em get out of bed and tackle school with an ‘I can do’ attitude instead of ‘Woe is me,'” Reed explained.

And Graham herself can wear a sense of pride: “I think it’s crazy. I think it’s improbable that something like that can happen from one person.”

So for collecting and donating clothes for hundreds of East Bay teenagers, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Laura Graham.

To contact 1 Closet, email Laura Graham at laura.1.closet@gmail.com

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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