Austin 5th-grader collects gently-used costumes for kids in need next Halloween

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin 5th-grader started a new effort this year to collect, clean and store gently-used Halloween costumes so she can give them out to kids in need next year.

Alexis Berson, 11, poses for a photo as Katniss Everdeen from the “Hunger Games” series last Halloween. This was one of the costumes that she didn’t expect to wear again, inspiring her to collect donations for kids in need. (Photo Courtesy: Martin Berson)

Alexis Berson, 11, came up with the idea when she noticed two things last Halloween: the cost of new costumes and the number of outfits she had in her closet.

“I just had a bunch lying there that were either too small or I was just never going to wear them again,” Alexis told KXAN. “Sometimes costumes are really expensive and not everybody has the ability to even sometimes buy dinner.”

The Austin Jewish Academy student created Kostumes for Kids, kicking off the project this month with orange donation boxes at businesses around the city, including many Snap Kitchen and Epoch Coffee locations. She keeps the Kostumes for Kids Facebook page updated with locations of new donation boxes.

A donation box at Fresh Plus Grocery in Hyde Park. (Photo Courtesy: Kostumes for Kids)

Boxes are also set up at Hill Elementary School, the Austin Jewish Academy, and St. Andrews Episcopal School’s Lower School.

Alexis said she’s already collected a few dozen costumes and hopes to gather between 1,500 and 2,000 before she removes the boxes at Thanksgiving. She’s still looking for a dry cleaning partner to clean the costumes, as well as storage for the coming year before distributing the costumes to kids in need next September and October.

The cost of Halloween

The National Retail Federation expected near-record spending this Halloween, with the average person expecting to shell out $86.27 for costumes, candy and decorations.

Americans were expected to spend $3.2 billion on costumes alone leading up to Oct. 31, the trade association’s annual survey found, with the average cost totaling more than $30.

“She kept looking at the prices and saying, ‘Wow, this is $30 or $40 or $50,'” said Martin Berson, Alexis’ dad.

She’s been tagging along with her mom’s volunteering efforts with Keep Austin Fed, and recognized the cost of a new costume each year is prohibitive for a lot of families.

“To see an opportunity, and to be able to act on it and potentially make a difference for a bunch of kids who aren’t necessarily expecting it, but who could benefit from it, is pretty awesome,” Berson said.

A teaching moment

Family friend Kaylie Reed stopped by the Epoch Coffee location downtown with her two daughters Tuesday to drop off a handful of old costumes.

She’s kept a lot of outfits to hand down from her older to her younger daughter, “but this seemed like a better use of them.”

Kaylie Reed and her daughter Lily deposit costumes into the donation box at Epoch Coffee downtown on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

She’s using the donation boxes as a teaching moment for her older daughter, Lily, who’s 4-and-a-half.

“There was a little struggle of, like, ‘I don’t want to give this up,'” Reed said. She took the opportunity to explain that “we have some leftover money after we pay for our food and our home so we can get you a Halloween costume, and not everyone does.”

Sustainability

Alexis’ school’s theme for her 5th-grade year is sustainability, and she’s embracing her new mission as it relates to that theme.

The boxes are all recycled from moving companies and hardware stores that were just going to get rid of them, she explained. Volunteers with Generation Serve helped decorate the ones that she stationed around the city starting Sunday, “and there’s a lot more locations that we soon hope to have.”

Alexis Berson, 11, looks at the costumes that have been donated so far at the Epoch Coffee location downtown on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

The donations contribute to sustainability, too, giving a second life cycle to costumes that often see just one use. Her ultimate goal is to ensure that Kostumes for Kids is sustainable, too.

“We’re going to try and create a system that we can basically reuse every year,” she said.

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