The Story of Spreading Threads Clothing Bank
How Spreading Threads Began
Spreading Threads Clothing Bank was started as a grassroots, 501 (c)(3) nonprofit clothing bank based in Tucson, Arizona, with the purpose of providing free clothing to youth in foster care in Pima County and Southern Arizona. Launched in 2018, Spreading Threads Clothing Bank was founded by Michele Wright and Michele Bennett, two women who have fostered and adopted several children in Southern Arizona.
Wright and Bennett began Spreading Threads after the State of Arizona cut benefits to foster children and their foster families. The two women saw a need to give foster children some dignity and wanted them to feel good in their own skin. With new, clean clothes, shoes, and school supplies, foster children can attend school feeling like they have a more level playing field.
Since its inception, Spreading Threads has assisted thousands of children and families in Pima County and Southern Arizona with obtaining the clothing and supplies needed for day-to-day living as well as for school, church, and special events. They have performed countless emergency pulls, day and night, for children who have entered the foster care system with little to nothing in terms of clothing, school supplies, books and toys.
Meet Our Board of Directors
As a nonprofit community clothing bank, Spreading Threads relies heavily on volunteer support. Our Board of Directors helps to keep our 501(c)(3) on track by making financial decisions, pursuing and obtaining sponsorships, organizing clothing bank events, and processing donations. Learn about our amazing and giving board members below.
Executive Director and Cofounder
Michele Wright was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. Her family relocated to Arizona when she was 13 years old. After graduating from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Wright attended the University of Arizona where she earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology. She really liked the feel of Tucson so stayed in the area after college.
In 1997, Wright met Michele Bennett, her wife, through mutual friends. The two started growing their family by fostering children beginning in 2003. The couple adopted their first child in 2004 and added three more in 2007, 2010, and 2020. It was during their time as foster parents that Wright realized how few resources were available for foster children and the families caring for them. Additionally, the annual clothing stipend for a child in foster care in the State of Arizona was reduced from $300 to $150, which is where it remains today.
“I often saw foster kids wearing clothes that didn’t fit and they didn’t look comfortable” said Wright. “Foster kids have so many things that they are burdened with and having a shirt on their back shouldn’t be one of them. I felt like a clothing bank was something that our community could do for them. They have as much right to dignity as the rest of us.”
Wright started reaching out to foster licensing agencies and other foster organizations to get the word out about Spreading Threads Clothing Bank as a resource. She had to convince them that she was operating a trustworthy organization for foster children and families that had no strings attached.
“I reached out to anyone who had involvement with foster care and foster families to let them know they could tell their families that we were here,” Wright added. “It took a lot of time to get to know these folks and get them to understand that they could trust me. I really wanted them to communicate that to their families. I want these agencies to be able to refer their families to us and know that they will get what they need and it won’t be a waste of their time.”
Additionally, Wright joined other foster organizations to further educate herself about the law and needs of modern foster families of all kinds. She became a member of the Foster Care Review Board which allowed her to ask questions of foster families to determine what they really needed.
“One of the best ways to learn is to just listen to the people that are involved in the system,” Wright said of launching Spreading Threads Clothing Bank. “I want them to tell me what their struggles are. We need continuous feedback channels or we end up using the same format over and over again. Whatever we did, I knew it would have to be fluid and flexible.”
For Wright, the best part of volunteering her time to operate Spreading Threads is giving people the sense that someone cares while connecting them with other community resources. She said the biggest gift she has received through her work is creating human connections through Spreading Threads.
“One of the greatest things about this is seeing the foster families connect and share ideas and have that sense of belonging because you can feel very isolated,” said Wright. “This really brings people together. It’s a safe place where they can interact with foster parents that are licensed by other agencies. There are very few venues where we can get together, talk, share ideas, and support each other.”
In her spare time, Wright said she enjoys cooking, baseball and making people laugh.
“I really rejoice in sharing different venues and events where people can enjoy other people,” Wright said.
President and Cofounder
Michele Bennett cofounded Spreading Threads Clothing Bank two years ago with her wife, Michele Wright. The two have fostered and adopted four children and realized through their personal experience how badly foster children and foster families needed support.
When the two women took on a baby girl (now their daughter) with very little notice, they were not prepared for a baby. The two quickly recognized that the $150 annual clothing stipend from the state wasn’t going to cover all of the needs of a growing baby from clothes and diapers to wipes, toys, and a crib. Their neighbors pitched in to help them gather everything they needed for their “instant” daughter. That’s when the two Micheles brainstormed the idea of a clothing bank just for foster children and their families, thus, Spreading Threads Clothing Bank was born.
“We went into this to grow our family,” said Bennett of becoming foster parents. “Some of these people don’t. Some of them are grandparents on social security who aren’t working that are now raising three grandchildren unexpectedly. Unless they are foster licensed by the state, they get paid very little so they need as much support as they can get.”
Originally from California, Bennett moved to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. She now works for the Tucson Unified School District as a nurse. Bennett loves both children and animals. Her hobbies including reading and watching her children participate in swim team activities. She has served as president of the Spreading Threads Clothing Bank Board of Directors since its inception and volunteers her time at the clothing bank on an ongoing basis with her wife.
Having known both Micheles for years, Phillips was excited for the opportunity to become a part of the Spreading Threads Clothing Bank Board of Directors. She met Michele Bennett in college and she distinctly remembers the discussion about starting a clothing bank.
Phillips said she and her husband were inspired to foster and adopt after watching the two women work through their own foster experience. The couple has fostered five children over the years and adopted two of them in addition to having one biological child of their own. As foster parents, Phillips and her husband were aware of the cuts to the clothing stipend being made by the State of Arizona and the need for extra help for foster children and the families caring for them.
As the Vice President for the Spreading Threads Clothing Bank, Phillips collects donations from friends and acquaintances and volunteers her time at the clothing bank whenever possible. In addition to parenting and volunteering her time, Phillips works outside of the home preparing taxes for a local accountant. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, photography, and cooking.
One of the things Phillips most enjoys about being involved with Spreading Threads Clothing Bank is that she gets to see how clearly the nonprofit benefits foster children and foster families.
“It’s really neat to go to the events and actually talk to the foster parents coming in,” said Phillips. “I have heard them tell stories about how Spreading Threads really does help them. I have seen letters and cards from people the organization has helped. It’s really very connected to the people that are benefiting as opposed to other charities where you don’t see where your money or donations are going. It makes you really feel connected and like you’re making a difference.”
Additionally, Phillips expressed deep respect for Michele Wright who has inspired her in so many ways on a personal level.
“Michele is so passionate about what she does. She’s a connector. She brings people together. Through Spreading Threads, she stays connected to the foster care community and tells me about connection after connection she is involved in. She makes things happen. She is just is somebody who makes lives better. I am a better person because I know her and it feels really good to be involved in anything she is doing. I love being a part of Spreading Threads for that reason. It’s really extraordinary.”
Since the launch of Spreading Threads Clothing Bank, Tucson native Pat Hernandez has served as the secretary for the board of directors. She met Michele Bennett nearly 20 years ago as they work together for TUSD. As a school health assistant with two grown children and two grandchildren of her own, children hold a special place in the Hernandez’s heart.
Over the last 25 years of working in schools, Hernandez has seen many foster children enroll and move through TUSD. She also watched as her brother completed a kinship placement for her nephew. Through these experiences and her work with Bennett, she became aware of how much support is needed by foster children and their families and how little assistance there really is for them.
Hernandez became involved with Spreading Threads when she was discussing the clothing bank’s launch with Bennett. As a Spanish speaker who can also read and write Spanish, Hernandez has been able to assist with translation at times for some of the children and families using Spreading Threads as a resource. She has also attended a couple of the clothing exchange events and has helped the clothing bank relocate twice.
“I enjoy helping provide a service that wasn’t there before Spreading Threads started,” said Hernandez. “It makes the children, parents, and kinship parents feel at ease that we understand the situation they are in. Spreading Threads is there for the unexpected as children grow and weather changes and they need more clothes. It’s a valuable resource and they are really filling a need. They also make sure the clothing is nice, too.”
Outside of her work and volunteer efforts with Spreading Threads, Hernandez enjoys time with her family, participating in community events, and being outdoors. She also volunteers her time on the Student Wellness Advisory Team (SWAT) at the school where she works to teach students and their families about proper nutrition and getting enough exercise. Additionally, she helps in the school’s garden.
Sharon Bennett became involved with Spreading Threads Clothing Bank through an invitation from her daughter and cofounder, Spreading Threads President Michele Bennett. Despite living in California, Sharon Bennett serves as treasurer for the Spreading Threads Board of Directors. When the clothing bank was getting off the ground, Sharon Bennett and her other daughter would scour local garage sales in California for clothing that was in good shape at reasonable prices to ship to Tucson.
As a semi-retired bookkeeper herself, Sharon Bennett was an ideal match for the responsibilities of the treasurer’s role. When her daughter asked her to join the board, Sharon Bennett gladly accepted.
“I like to be useful,” said Sharon Bennett, who wanted to support her daughter. “At my age in life, you realize what is most important like people. Volunteering is really healthy for you.”
As treasurer for Spreading Threads, Sharon Bennett handles data entry for the nonprofit clothing bank and keeps the books balanced. In addition to her work and efforts for Spreading Threads, she also volunteers her time at St. Anthony’s church preparing meals and enjoys exercising such as walking. She also was invited to join a book club with Michele and her grandchildren which she enjoys. Sharon Bennett said she loves having the children read to her online and staying connected with them. She also participates in a book club for adults as well.
Member at Large
Not only does Beth McAbee sit on the Spreading Threads Board of Directors, but she counts herself lucky to call the two Micheles her neighbors. She has lived next to the couple and their children for more than a decade and became intrigued one day when she saw the women sorting clothes in their garage. That’s how she learned about Spreading Threads Clothing Bank and she instantly wanted to help.
“What I like the most is witnessing the passion between Michele Wright and Michele Bennett,” McAbee said. “They are really into this. They put on a holiday event and try to make it fun for the kids. Because they had adopted their own kids, they know what the kids need so they are perfect for this nonprofit. You get wrapped up in their enthusiasm and energy.”
McAbee, a retiree from Hewlett-Packard who relocated to Tucson from California, said she enjoys helping sort clothing for Spreading Threads. She has also helped at exchange events in the past in addition to sitting on the board of directors. McAbee said there is great excitement in watching Spreading Threads grow.
“They have racks and racks of clothing,” said McAbee. “Everything is hung up. It looks nice and neat so when you go to pull stuff, everything is hung up and not just in a big bunch. They have another agency that sews these bags for them and they look really nice. They don’t want to give clothes in garbage bag. They have so many donations, they are ready for another building.”
Outside of her volunteer work with Spreading Threads, McAbee was once involved with agility training with her Australian Shepard. Now in her retirement, she also enjoys reading and cooking.
Member at Large
A long-time friend of Michele Wright, Mary Springer wanted to help out in her community and she felt Spreading Threads was a place where she could make a positive impact. Springer, who moved to Tucson from Iowa in 1999, is a self-employed hairdresser. She said she served as a foster parent herself for a brief period of time and really got to see the need that is out there for foster children and their families.
When Wright told Springer about Spreading Threads, she wanted to help and joined the board of directors as a member at large in late 2019.
“I wanted to be able to do my part,” said Springer. “We’ve all got clothes that we have outgrown or don’t wear anymore. Michele is so enthusiastic so who doesn’t want to get involved? Her enthusiasm is infectious!”
Springer said she often shops for clothing to donate, invites others to donate to Spreading Threads, and often tells clients about the organization. She is also hoping to host a Christmas in July event through her business to encourage people to donate new socks and underwear to Spreading Threads. For Springer, the best part about being involved with the nonprofit is watching the children and families take the clothing.
“It’s just fun to see the clothes go out the door,” she said. “You know the need is there. It takes a burden off the families who couldn’t take the children in otherwise. It also gives them some normalization. You hear people talk about that and letting kids have clothes that makes them feel good, that makes them feel normal.”
Educating others about the needs of foster children is another way Springer says Spreading Threads contributes to the community and provides a venue where people can offer their support.
“I think people, in my personal experience, are so excited to help and they are unaware of how many ways they can help,” said Springer. “Letting people know about Spreading Threads is a great way to help. People are generous and helpful, they just need direction. There is also that terrific tax credit. There are always going to be kids in foster care and they are always going to need clothes.”
In addition to her work and volunteer efforts through Spreading Threads, Springer enjoys fostering dogs, hiking, and walking. She said she is also getting into refinishing furniture. Since she also loves her career field, Springer likes taking continuing education for her industry as well.
Business Development and Outreach Lead
The newest member of the Spreading Threads Board of Directors is Sandy LaRowe. She said she has always wanted to become more involved in volunteering for a nonprofit organization but her work schedule always seemed to get in the way. Now, the Portland, Oregon, native who has more than 25 years of experience in the apparel and footwear industry has made the time to volunteer for Spreading Threads.
“I was exposed to Spreading Threads and I wanted to see if my work in the apparel and footwear industry could add some benefit and relief to these families that are in need,” said LaRowe. “During the pandemic, I got to see it first-hand. I did a lot of volunteering and I had the opportunity to help with emergency clothing pulls and saw how the children were impacted. I got to see how Spreading Threads helped these children achieve some dignity and grace and how my contacts in the corporate world might be able to help bring these children items so they could feel special, dignified, and strong and understand that people care for them.”
As the new Business Development and Outreach Lead for Spreading Threads, LaRowe will be reaching out to firms to donate new garments and footwear for children in need. After so many years as head of product and product creation for name-brand companies such as Nike and Adidas, LaRowe is really hoping to make a connection for the benefit of foster children in Tucson and Southern Arizona.
LaRowe, who has a Masters in International Business from Thunderbird in Glendale, AZ, said she has been able to help gather donations, organize space at Spreading Threads, and aided in locating space through a commercial real estate broker. Additionally, she has been working with Spreading Threads to make purchases across the web on deeply discounted items that will support the needs of foster children and families who turn to the clothing bank for assistance.
“I see the smile on the kid’s faces and just being able to give them some joy, even during difficult times, is so rewarding,” said LaRowe.
In her spare time, LaRowe enjoys the great outdoors through hiking and biking. She also likes spinning on her Peloton bike at home. Whenever she has the opportunity, LaRowe also spends time with German speakers as she is fluent in the language and doesn’t want her German to get rusty.
The Story Behind Our Logo
One of the children that was fostered and adopted by Anna Phillips and her husband is Dagny Phillips. The couple adopted her when she was just a year old and she has grown up feeling lucky to have found her forever family.
Dagny loves creating art and drawing. When she was just 12, Wright approached her about creating a logo for Spreading Threads Clothing Bank and Dagny jumped at the chance to pitch in.
“My mom and I just sat down and she was talking about what the name of the organization was and what it was all about,” recalls Dagny. “I came up with the idea of expressing the words with art. I thought about thread so I included a spool of thread. There’s stuff hanging from the thread, like little hangers and beads. Then I came up with the hearts to express the love that went into this clothing bank. The two Micheles were wanting to do this for a long time and they love their kids. I wanted to include that thought in the image.”
Dagny, who also donates her clothes to Spreading Threads Clothing Bank, said she feels good about being able to contribute to Spreading Threads in any way she can.
“It just makes me really happy to know that they are helping other kids that have it worse off than I do or those that are struggling,” Dagny said. “Spreading Threads has become a real business where kids can feel welcome. We love the Micheles. They are family to us.”
While Dagny still enjoys art, she has begun pursuing other interests as well. She plays the violin, soccer, and tennis. She is looking forward to moving on to high school in the fall of 2020 as well. Dagny said she will be joining her high school orchestra and also plans to take early childhood education so she can work with preschoolers.