"One of our biggest days of the year is our back-to-school shopping event, where parents bring their kids in to get backpacks with school supplies and clothes for the new school year," Watterson said. "We all know what it's like to show up in the cafeteria on the first day of school, trying to find new friends and trying to fit in. We want to offer kids the confidence that comes with new clothes and being able to stay in step with their peers."
"We also want to help fill in the gap for low-income parents struggling on their own," Watterson continued. "It costs $700 to clothe a child for a year. If you have three kids, that's more than $2,000. That's a lot of money, and a need that we can help people meet."
At this year's back-to-school event, the excitement is palpable. Kids rush up to racks, flipping through until they stop — their smiles wide — on a chosen garment. "Mom, look at this one!" Volunteers act as personal stylists, making sure the fit, material, color and every little detail is just right.
A number of the pieces in the store are new Old Navy clothes, donated by Gap Inc. from the brand's clothing samples. Each week, the Old Navy team packages up anywhere between 50 and 100 boxes — with anywhere between 100 and 150 clothing items in them — to fill the racks at St. Anthony's.
The partnership is hardly new. (In fact, it's hard to pin down how long ago it began. Trying to find the genesis of the partnership is a scavenger hunt — perhaps this person will know? Well, it's been going on longer than she's been here, so that's definitely more than 15 years. Was it back in the '90s? No, it definitely went further back than that. Let's ask Dolores.)
Regardless of when it started, the St. Anthony's donation truck still pulls up to Old Navy's headquarters in San Francisco's Mission Bay neighborhood at least once a month. It's packed with the season's products, ready to be shipped and stocked for neighbors a few blocks away, who will start chapters of their lives — whether big or small — in the clothes.
"This past April a guest came in — she's a single mother, confined to a wheelchair — and brought in her daughter who had acceptance letters to 17 top universities," Watterson said. "The daughter accepted a scholarship to Harvard for low-income students, and was here to find clothes for her freshman orientation in Cambridge the next week."
"This person is about to embark on this huge journey — meeting with professors, administrators, and other students," Watterson said. "And she is choosing to present herself in these clothes. It speaks volumes that she can begin her new life with confidence and present her best self in new clothes."