North Lauderdale teen heads project to clothe foster children

Lindsay Giambattista folds a garment at Taylor's Closet in North Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008. Lindsay, who just turned 17, oversees a boutique clothing store for girls in foster care that received $1 million worth of donated apparel last year from designers, retailers and people from as far away as Tokyo who heard about the venture on the news.

Alan Diaz/The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 6:02 p.m.

NORTH LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Lindsay Giambattista's parents chuckled when she told them she wanted to give clothes to girls in need.

They figured the Teen Vogue-scouring daughter of a fashion industry veteran wanted an excuse to do more shopping.

Fast-forward two years: Lindsay, 17, oversees a boutique offering clothing to girls in foster care, handling $1 million worth of donated apparel last year from designers, retailers and people from as far away as Tokyo.

The idea started snowballing after Lindsay looked at 10 trash bags filled with her own duds and decided it wasn't enough. She reached out to friends and relatives, and the word spread.

Taylor's Closet named after Lindsay's sister who died at birth now serves about 300 young women in the Fort Lauderdale area, each getting up to six garments a month. Girls in the foster care system, or who recently left it after turning 18, are invited.

Similar boutiques have opened in Dallas and Spokane, Wash., and more are in the works.

Initially, Lindsay was just looking for a fun community service project to fulfill a high school graduation requirement. The deeply religious teen prayed for divine guidance and says she got it.

"This (idea) kinda came to me," she said recently, "and it was from God."

When people heard about her project, they gave her office space for the boutique, donated services and material to build it, and sent her brand-new clothing to fill the racks and shelves and a warehouse in the back to hold everything that passes the boutique's "like-new," high-fashion threshold.

Lindsay's mom, Linda Giambattista, was a fashion industry sales rep before she quit to home-school her children a few years ago. She sees clothes as a way for girls to express themselves, and knows the teasing and self-consciousness that can accompany girls who can't afford to shop at trendy outlets.

But the power behind Taylor's Closet goes beyond that.

"It's not really about the clothing," Linda Giambattista said. "It's about what's happening there. They experience love and hope."

Ashley Larkins remembers her first time at Taylor's Closet. As she scanned what she described as "some busting stuff" teenspeak for something that looks good the 19-year-old started bawling.

Ashley had been in foster care since she was 14, when her mother decided she couldn't take any more of her eight children.

"She's like, 'I'm getting tired of y'all,'" Ashley says, her voice breaking. "I came home from school one day and my stuff was sitting outside."

The teen spent a year at a women's shelter before moving to a group home. Another girl at the home, who has become Ashley's best friend, told her about Taylor's Closet, and Ashley went to see it for herself.

"I started crying because I felt like so loved, like somebody finally cared about me," Ashley said. "I was just so happy."

On a recent Tuesday, Ashley tried out various outfits, as Lindsay and her mom offered their opinion.

"Oh, that's cute, with jeans," Linda Giambattista said of a cream-colored flowing sleeveless top. "You can pull it off, definitely."

Ashley also grabbed two pairs of brand-new jeans one dark blue, one light that had just arrived. A girl in New Mexico saw a segment about Taylor's Closet on television and decided to hold a fundraiser for it at her high school. With the $1,000 collected, she went to an Aeropostale store and bought 25 pairs of jeans and 30 tops.

At the front of the shop, Lindsay bagged up the picks and noted their estimated worth in a binder: $250. It's the closest thing to a cash register.

Before Ashley and her friend Latoia Caraballo left, Linda Giambattista asked the girls if they had any prayer requests. They asked for pleas for good health and a productive apartment search they're looking to move in together.

Lindsay lead the group in a two-minute prayer. She asked God to help them find something affordable, clean, centrally located, "a cute apartment, Lord."

In an earlier interview, Lindsay said that although the store is a product of her faith, she doesn't try to force it on her customers.

"We're not there to convert them or whatever," Lindsay said. "We just want to give them pure love that'll change their lives."

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