This Canadian city has big plans for your old T-shirts.
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Savers

There's one in every closet.

It's torn at the hem and along the neckline. There are stains all over — some you remember, some you don't. It's been washed so many times that it's see-through, making it simultaneously the definition of comfort and completely unwearable in public — which is fine because it has shrunk in some places and stretched in others and hasn't really fit right in years.


Sometimes shabby-chic just isn't a really good look. Image via iStock.

It's your favorite T-shirt, and it really needs a new home. Markham, Ontario, wants to give it one.

This small-but-mighty suburb of Toronto has been recycling for a really long time.

They've recycled newspapers for nearly three decades, later expanding to aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastics, then electronics, then composting. There are places to drop off appliances, household waste, and old electronics. But until recently, there was nothing for textiles. That's a problem for nearby landfills.

Landfills: A great place for hungry birds — not a great place for your clothes. Image via iStock.

A 2015 survey of Ontario residents found that only 15% of unwanted textiles in the region were recycled.

For the Markham region specifically, that meant that about 4,425 tons of textile waste ended up at the garbage dumps every year, making up about 7% of their volume. City sanitation workers knew it was happening — they already operate a "clear bag" program for waste so everything on its way to a landfill is easy to see. And with fast fashion encouraging consumers to buy cheap, quick clothes with short lives, the mountain of textiles in the local landfill was only going to get bigger.

For the government of Markham, this felt like something they could fix — or even eliminate completely.

Their first step in taking on textile waste was talking to the people of Markham about it. What they found out was fascinating.

They discovered that residents were open to donating and recycling more of their textiles, but that they only wanted to pass on their nicest articles of clothing. Claudia Marsales, Markham's senior waste manager, described the city's findings to the CBC. "People only thought you could donate something that was perfect."

While that's very thoughtful, it misses the second life that many less-than-perfect textiles can have after being recycled. Less-fashionable or rewearable clothes, along with other unwanted textiles and fabrics, can be repurposed in many fascinating ways: making automotive rags, home insulation, carpet padding, diapers, landscaping fabrics, even "smart skin" for medical researchers. There are second lives for clothes, blankets, sleeping bags, furniture fabric, mattress padding, backpacks, rugs, cushions, curtains, and, — since it's Canada — winter outerwear and gear.

Earlier this year, the town introduced "Markham Tackles Textiles," a new program designed to make fabric recycling easier than ever before.

Now there are adorably designed textile donation bins located in convenient places around the city where people can drop off unwanted textiles. A local charitable organization sorts through the donations and preps them for their second life.

Pictured: your old clothes and bedding, en route to a brand-new life. Image via iStock.

The nicest and most fashionable clothing and bedding donations will head to local charity thrift shops for sale. Others will be bundled into 1,000-pound bales and sold to private companies for reuse in a variety of industrial purposes. Only when all other opportunities for reuse are exhausted are some products sent on to the landfill.

Getting serious about textile recycling is one more step toward sustainability for this Canadian city.

It's already Canada's first "monarch-friendly" city, devoted to protecting the habitat of the popular but endangered butterfly. It operates one of the largest solar-powered installations in the region. Markham is focused on local food and green transportation, managing a community seed library, regular farmers markets, and a 125-mile network of bike paths. Now it's committing to another incredibly ambitious goal: recycling 100% of unwanted textiles in the community.

For Claudia Marsales, this textile recycling program is also part of a campaign to educateMarkham residents about the social andenvironmental effects of disposablefashion and encourage them to think about the end-of-life for all fabric products they buy.

As for that unwanted old T-shirt you can't seem to let go of, this might be the perfect place. As Marsales told the York Region this month: “The message is we will take every piece you have.”

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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