This Halloween, Alexis Berson, 11, dressed as Genie from “Aladdin,” complete with blue makeup on her face and a high ponytail on top of her head.
And like all the costumes in her closet of Halloweens gone by, Alexis has a plan to give them a new life.
The fifth grader at Austin Jewish Academy has founded Kostumes for Kids, an organization that will collect gently used costumes the month after Halloween, dry-clean them, and then donate them the following fall to kids for whom a new costume would be financially out of reach.
Alexis came up with the idea of Kostumes for Kids last Halloween. “I was shopping for costumes and noticed they were really expensive, like $20 or $30,” she says. “That’s a lot of money for something I’m never going to use again.”
After trick-or-treating, she was putting her costume away in the closet when she saw a lot of other costumes there from years before.
Alexis knew that she had always been able to go to a Halloween costume store and pick out a new costume, but she also knew that not every kid could do that.
That’s when she came up with the idea for Kostumes for Kids.
“You could see the wheels spinning in her head,” says her father, Martin Berson. Over the next couple of days, he says, she was asking questions about how they could figure out a way to collect extra costumes that people have and get them to people who didn’t have any. She had seen Coats for Kids, and a family friend had done something similar as a bat mitzvah project on a smaller scale.
She and her parents began to talk about logistics, like how they could offer collection boxes and organizations they could partner with.
They did a lot of talking, and then they got busy with life. By January, Martin Berson says, “it was out of sight, out of mind.”
Then family friends inquired about Alexis’ idea, and Alexis got excited about it again. They built a website. She sent an email to Generation Serve, a nonprofit that works with families and teens to facilitate volunteering, to see about partnering with them. Generation Serve agreed to help Alexis sort and do inventory of any costumes she collects.
She contacted Neighborhood Longhorns, an education program between the Austin Independent School District and the University of Texas, and has a population of students who might need costumes. It agreed to be the recipient.
They reached out to family members and friends to see if they would help build collection boxes. Alexis went to various businesses and schools to see if they would host a collection box during the month of November.
Now she has boxes at locations of Epoch Coffee, Snap Kitchen, 24 Hour Fitness, Fresh Plus in Hyde Park, St. Andrew’s Elementary, Hill Elementary and Austin Jewish Academy.
Her goal is to collect 1,200 costumes this first year.
People can drop off gently used costumes throughout November. Right now, Alexis estimates they have at least 200 costumes, but it’s growing by the day. So far, Disney princess costumes have been popular. She’ll take any costumes of any size, including adult sizes, but asks for them to be appropriate for kids. She’d also like to not have anything with weapons.
Alexis is still looking for a place to store the costumes and a dry-cleaner to clean them.
Next fall, she will organize distribution days.
Alexis says this project fits really well with what she’s learning in school. This year her class is focusing on sustainability. Recycling costumes by collecting them in boxes that have been reused is “not throwing them out and adding to our landfill.”
The idea is taking off. Through the KostumesforKidATX Facebook page and kostumesforkids.org, Alexis has been getting three to four emails an hour with people asking how they can help.
“I was expecting it to grow pretty big, but not at the rate we are going right now,” she says.
“The goal is to get as many costumes as we can and serve as many people as we can,” she says.
When she started, Alexis was given this stipulation from her parents: If you start something, you have to finish it. And that meant seeing it through for at least one year.
Martin Berson thinks this could be really big and has already heard interest in expanding to Houston and Dallas.
“There is some interest in it because the idea of a kid with no motive other than helping out is pretty awesome,” Martin Berson says.
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