Empowering the whole family

Tracy Gilmore and Tracy Chambers.

Eight years ago, Tracy Chambers and her partner, Tracey Gilmore, started the Clothing Bank to help unemployed single mothers.

Since then, the Thornton-based non-profit has established branches across the country and spawned two other self-help initiatives that have offered training and money-making opportunities to hundreds.

“Our vision is to create self-employment opportunities,” said Ms Chambers.

The Clothing Bank does that by giving the women it helps the chance to buy clothes at discounted prices so they can, in turn, sell them for a profit.

“That allows them to solve their money issues but then we also provide them with business and life skills through our two-year course.”

Each woman who joins the programme has a life coach, gets parenting advice and learns how to handle their money and run their own business.

Ms Chambers worked for Woolworths for nine years, and the clothing store now donates clothes to the Clothing Bank.

According to Ms Chambers, the women can earn up to R5 000 a month selling clothes.

She added that 800 women had been trained via the organisation’s five nationwide branches since 2010, earning a combined
R30 million.

“Our initial target, when we started the Clothing Bank, was single unemployed women with at least one dependent,” said Ms Chambers. “This was done in order to make a double impact, in the sense that if we empower the mother they will then empower their children.”

Two new organisations have grown out of the original concept: the Appliance Bank and Grow.

“One of our donating partners, Clicks, started giving us returned appliances such as irons and toasters and it sort of stocked up in our warehouse as the woman never had the technical skills to work with them,” said Ms Chambers.

“So we decided to start a programme for men where we add technical skills along with the emotional skills that we give to the women, and I am happy to say that it has been a success.

Grow, meanwhile, helps struggling families give their children a quality education.

“We noticed that once the woman earned money, they would spend money on the house and then on getting their children quality education. Some mothers would spend up to R700 a month just on getting their children to good schools, so we decided to bring quality education closer to them. Right now we have 34 facilities across Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg that were converted from after-care or daycare centres to registered grade schools.

“By the end of the year, the Appliance Bank would have helped 200 men across the country,” said Ms Chambers.

One of those men is Mthunzi Qagana, who found himself living on the streets after moving to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape.

“I can now provide for my family and send my children to better schools,” Mr Qagana said.

“I can feed my kids, send money to my mother and build my dignity. I have learned good lessons like never to sell on credit. My business is growing. I bought a car with money I saved. I employ two people.”