Local teen builds charity empire with Indian festival clothing
The month of October is full of festivities for many Indians. Major festivals such as Diwali and Navratri hold a lot of significance and call for families to dress up in their traditional attire.
While these beautiful and colorful clothes can help kids here in the U.S. feel a bit closer to the traditions of India, they are often rapidly outgrown. It seems impractical to donate these pieces to generic donation centers where they won’t be used.
Avani Bansal, 15, started a nonprofit called Dream Dresses in the spring of 2021 to combat this problem. Her organization collects slightly used Indian festive wear and ships them to India, where they are distributed to underprivileged children.
This summer, Bansal traveled to India and donated around 85 kilograms (187 pounds) of collected clothing, or more than 500 dresses. She formed a memorable experience meeting the kids while distributing clothing.
“It felt really rewarding…. I remember this one girl, she was about 8 years old, and she was so excited to get the clothes,” Bansal said, adding that she thinks their excitement was partly because “they were expecting something less, not these dresses that are practically new.”
While in India, Bansal formed partnerships with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — Catalysts for Social Action (CSA) and Aarna Foundation. Through these organizations, Dream Dresses has drastically expanded their distribution network.
Henal Shah, 34, the head of communications and fundraising at CSA, explained that her organization partners with childcare institutions across the country and is currently working with around 4,500 children.
“When we work with these children, we not only look at their basic, functional needs, but also their recreational needs,” Shah said.
She explained how CSA provides the kids they support with celebrations during festive seasons. When Bansal reached out to them about a partnership, they were happy to start working together.
“It fits in perfectly and blends with our program,” Shah said. “Avani has a huge potential and an audience that [aligns with our goals].”
While Bansal expanded Dream Dresses’ reach in India through these NGOs, she has also expanded to four new states within the U.S. — Virginia, Texas, Ohio, and California. In each of these states there is a lead whose home acts as a donation center.
Tanmayi Mendu, 13, is the Virginia lead. She first heard about Dream Dresses from her mom and joined around March this year.
“I was immediately interested because I’ve always had old Indian clothes that no longer fit me and I’ve never really known what to do with them,” Mendu said, adding that in the past, she would sometimes give them to kids when she went to India, so she was happy to learn about an organization she could formally do this through.
She said that it has been a pleasure to work with Bansal since “she’s very proactive and always looking for ways for us to spread the word…just spreading the word is really important to us.”
Dream Dresses now has Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts.
As a long-term volunteer, Mendu started the organization’s GoFundMe page and also helped to design the logo.
“I hope that we can get enough monetary donations to be constantly sending clothes to India,” Mendu said.
Much of the monetary donations will go towards their new Carry-a-Bag initiative. Bansal explained that this is a new strategy to help make the shipping of clothes to India more frequent. Essentially, if someone is traveling to India, they can volunteer to carry an extra bag that contains donated clothing. Dream Dresses will cover the cost of checking this bag onto the flight, and will coordinate with one of their partner NGOs in India for pick up.
“If you’re traveling to India, please consider doing Carry-a-Bag…it doesn’t require much effort and it’s a great way to just help out and put a smile on some more kids’ faces,” Bansal said.
If you are interested in donating or volunteering to Dream Dresses, please visit here.