Feb 21, 2013

No Clothes Left Behind After Marathon

A crew of 30 Goodwill volunteers picked up nearly a ton of clothes discarded by Livestrong Marathon runners after the start on a cold Sunday morning. The clothes will be evaluated, and useable items will be sold at Goodwill stores. Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez.

By Brionne V. Griffin
For Reporting Texas

AUSTIN — As 17,000 runners crowded at the start of the Livestrong Austin Marathon Feb. 17, they jogged in place and jumped up and down to fend off the 40-degree early-morning chill. When the buzzer sounded, they sped off down the course, shedding the extra clothes they had worn to stay warm.

As the runners disappeared north on Congress Avenue, a crew of 30 Goodwill volunteers moved onto the course to pick up the sweats and other clothes they had left behind.

For the second consecutive year, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas organized an effort to pick up and recycle runners’ discarded clothes as part of the organization’s Clothing Sweep program.

Before Goodwill created the Clean Sweep program in 2011, abandoned clothing was collected by a different small charity each year, or thrown out with the rest of the race-day trash. This year, Shea Pullan, community engagement coordinator at Goodwill, said the volunteers collected 1,766 pounds of clothing.

“It was a very eclectic assortment,” Pullan said. “We found a lot of different workout clothes, hats and gloves, but then we also found jeans and even a pair of slacks.”

Volunteer Katie Wilson, an employee at Dell, said she was shocked at the amount of discarded clothes.

“The barriers on either side of the three miles we walked were littered with sweatshirts, windbreakers, shirts and gloves,” Wilson said. “When thousands of people shed an article of clothing, it adds up.”

Goodwill spokeswoman Tara Anders said the marathon organizers reached out to her group.

“They recognized something needed to be done with these garments and they knew Goodwill could put the clothes to good use,” she added.

According to Rob Hill, sustainability coordinator for the marathon, the Goodwill partnership is part of a larger effort to improve the race’s sustainability certification from the Council for Responsible Sport.

The Portland, Ore.-based organization promotes the idea of sporting events that are organized with social and environmental impact in mind. It certifies events that meet certain standards through its ReSport program. More than 50 road races and other events have been certified.

“The certification assesses everything from whether you encouraged mass transit and bicycling, to if your event spread awareness of healthy habits, to if you reached out to populations who aren’t usually represented at your event,” Hill said.

The Austin Marathon earned a silver certification in 2010 and 2011, but is aiming for gold this year.

“I am extremely confident that we’ll make gold this year,” Hill said. He said the ultimate goal is to win the highest rating, Evergreen, but that’s difficult with a race as big as the marathon. The event also includes a half-marathon.

Hill hopes that if the marathon continues to improve its sustainability efforts, it will cause a ripple effect among its runners and competitors.

One reason Hill said that marathon organizers reached out to Goodwill was because “they are such a leader in sustainability overall.”

After the clothing was collected and loaded in trucks, it was hauled to the Goodwill Resource Center at 6505 Burleson Road, in Southeast Austin.

“We process these clothes like any other donation,” Anders said. “The staff examines the clothes, deciding which to sell and which to reject based on their condition.”

While the clothes are not washed, the collected items are misted with antibacterial spray, placed on a hanger and priced for sale at a Goodwill store.

Dodie Brown, a Goodwill employee, brought her son Joshua with her to the sweep. By 7:30 a.m., she said they were already filling a seventh bag of clothing, each about the size of a large trash bag.

“It’s really a family event for us,” Brown said. “My husband is running the half-marathon and my son and I decided to hop out and help pick up clothes.”

Another volunteer, Daijha Moreno, 15, has participated in a number of races, both as a runner and a volunteer. This was her first time picking up clothes.

“Being on the other side, you really appreciate everything the volunteers do for you, so I’m glad I can help out today,” Moreno said.