When confronted with fixing the communities where much of the population is disenfranchised, many people want to throw money at the problem.
Luckily, Michael Swaine is not most people.
Swaine is an instructor at the California College of the Arts, where he teaches ceramics. However, it isn't his pottery talents that he is putting to use for the people in San Francisco's Tenderloin District; notoriously gripped with poverty and crime. Instead, for the last 12 years, he's been using an old-fashioned treadle sewing machine mounted onto an ice cream cart and dedicating the 15th of every month to patching up clothes for whoever wants to use his services—free of charge.
Well, on the surface it may look like all he’s doing is stitching up pants, blankets, or bags, but the truth of the matter is much deeper; he’s actually mending the community itself.
There are about 25,000 people who live in Tenderloin, many of whom do not have the luxury of a closet full of clothes and the ability to merely throw clothing out and replace it after they've been worn out. Instead, they take the items to Swaine, who stitches them back together—sometimes multiple times on the same article—and makes them usable again.
In addition to patching up the clothing, Swaine actually talks to the people he is helping. He learns their stories and gives them a voice, which is what every person truly wants and needs.
Swaine’s work is actually a pretty strong metaphor for the community itself, which appears to outsiders to be broken.
Holes can be patched, and while it might not look as pretty as something brand new, the fix can often make it stronger than ever before.
Neither the people of The Tenderloin nor the clothes on their back are disposable, and sometimes it takes an art teacher with a treadle on an ice cream cart to show us that.