by Anthony DeMatteo
A choir of preschool children sang a blues version of the “Alphabet Song” and a professional basketball player admitted to feeling uncomfortable near a clothesline of underwear at the kick-off of a local charity’s second annual drive to collect new underwear for the needy.
The event was held at local public broadcasting station WJCT studios Feb. 1. Dignity-U-Wear Director of Development Cindy Sadler asked the approximately 100 people attending to spend the following six weeks collecting “bagged or tagged” underwear to donate to the Myrtle Street charity.
Dignity donates more than $15 million worth of new clothing to charities in 31 states, distributing clothes to almost 70 local charities.
The “Undie” campaign started last year after Sadler heard about a small church in South Carolina putting on an Undie Sunday drive for people of faith.
“We thought, ‘That’s a great idea. But what about the people who aren’t religious? They need underwear, too,’ ” said Sadler.
Sadler said last year’s goal of collecting 15,000 pieces of new underwear was exceeded by more than 60,000.
“I don’t have any qualms about us collecting 100,000 pieces this year,” said Sadler.
Those in attendance gobbled up hundreds of bags filled with information, buttons and two 55-gallon collection bags faster than they ate sandwiches and cookies at the sign-in table.
Sadler called the bags “starter kits.”
“Fill them up, call me, we’ll come get them and bring you more,” she told the crowd. “But do not think we’re stopping at two.”
The bags include tips on making collecting underwear fun.
“It’s Underoos and Barbie panties – what’s not to love?” said Sadler.
Joyce and Craig Gustafson of Space Walk of Jacksonville ran a popcorn machine at the opening. Earlier this year, the couple held a party at their house, collecting about 100 piece of underwear.
“I feel blessed to be a part of it,” said Joyce.
Jerry Williams of the American Basketball Association’s Jacksonville Jam spoke. He said underwear isn’t his favorite subject, but he’ll gladly help collect it for Dignity.
“I’m 6’6, 230 pounds, but for some reason I get nervous around underwear,” said Williams. “We have guys on the team strong enough to take as many bags as you guys fill up.”
Williams said donations can be brought to Jam home games at the University of North Florida.
Children from Community Connection Childcare sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the “Alphabet Song” on stage as the crowd cheered.
“It’s going to be an incredible six weeks,” Dignity CEO James Diehl told the crowd. “We’re looking forward to seeing what you all do and what the city of Jacksonville does.”
The campaign ends March 11 and March 12, a Sunday and Monday, at Dignity’s offices on Myrtle Street. There will be folk music, and Sticky Fingers and Starbucks will cater.
Dignity founder Henri Landwirth said he is amazed with the growth of Undie Sunday/Undie Monday.
“I’m very surprised, but at the same time, I’m very pleased,” said Landwirth. “Cindy [Sadler] started this thing single-handed, and now she has the support of the whole community.”
Sadler said charities in other states are calling to ask how they can be part of the growing effort.
“Whatever Henri does, he thinks globally,” said his wife, Linda. “He never thinks small. He’s always thinking big, and he believes in it so much that it just evolves.”