OAKLAND -- Lisa Klein was a new mom when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. She wanted to do something for the people of New Orleans and even trained with the Red Cross to be deployed to the area.
But with a young child, a home and a husband who gently suggested it was impractical, Klein instead surfed the Internet to see what she could do to help the people living in emergency shelters.
They needed just about everything, and what Klein had most to spare were baby clothes in the attic that she could donate.
That was the impetus of the nonprofit organization Klein started called Loved Twice, which has donated nearly 100,000 pounds of baby clothing to struggling parents and guardians across the U.S. since 2005.
For her efforts, Klein was given the distinction of being the city of Oakland's Mother of the Year. At age 45, Klein is one of the youngest mothers to receive the award.
"The reason for Loved Twice is just to help babies," she said. "The award is great, but I don't need a pat on the back for that."
Klein was chosen by a panel of community members who independently evaluated and ranked each nominee.
"Lisa's charitable work with Loved Twice was a large contributing factor in the choice," said Dana Riley of the Oakland Office of Parks and Recreation, which gives the award. "It is great to have a younger mother nominated for current contributions to the community."
After going through her own baby clothing, Klein got her first donations from 15 moms in her mothers group -- 200 pounds of clothing in four days. Someone posted her plea for clothing on Craigslist, and donations started piling up on her porch.
After serving families affected by Katrina, she turned her focus to families in the Bay Area, partnering with social services agencies to give the clothing to moms, aunts, uncles and grandparents who desperately needed it to keep the new baby in the family comfortable and warm.
Klein decided to keep her address private, so Loved Twice donations are now collected in 15 stores and businesses such as Cool Tops Cuts for Kids in Oakland and Pleasant Hill.
Each Loved Twice box includes 75 gently used items including onesies, socks, hats, pants, books, shirts, sleepwear and bibs and is worth an estimated $225.
Klein asks that donations are clean and folded, so volunteers from organizations like AAA and Google who go to her East Bay warehouse can easily pack the boxes. She says clothing donations should be for babies 12 months old and younger.
"We're fulfilling one of life's basic necessities. It's food, shelter and clothing, and we're providing clothes to kids who don't have a choice of what situation they were born into," she said.
The average household income for a mother receiving a Loved Twice box is less than $16,000, and all of Loved Twice's clients live below 200 percent of the national poverty level. Donations are not given through Loved Twice; instead, mothers and families go through social services agencies to get a box. More than 200 families have been given boxes at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland alone.
According to Rashawnda Lee of Early Intervention Services at Children's Hospital Oakland, families that are given the boxes have significant financial and housing challenges, and they may live in high-crime areas. Some parents have experienced trauma or have mental health issues. Some have been incarcerated or lack education. Many find it hard to secure meaningful employment.
"With the help from Loved Twice, we are able to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with worrying about how to meet at least this one basic necessity, allowing more time and space for parents to cope with other stressors in the family's life," Klein said.
Klein has turned Loved Twice into a full-time job, one that allows her to be an attentive mother but also work from home when the kids are at school or in bed. Word of mouth has spread about the organization, and mothers from around the country are collecting and donating clothing in their communities in the name of Loved Twice. Often, the clothing is re-gifted.
"We've heard time and time again that when those boxes are in that community they also get passed along," she said. "The clothing goes from affluent communities to underserved communities, where they are re-disbursed."
To learn more about donating to Loved Twice, go to www.lovedtwice.org.