PEPPERELL -- "Everybody has those jeans," said North Middlesex cheerleading coach Barbara Guerriero. "The ones where you say, 'Next year I'll wear them or I'll fit into them,' and then the next year comes and the next year goes and they're out of style or they don't fit."
The high school cheerleading squad is collecting those jeans to help clad homeless teens across the country. The squad is participating in Teens for Jeans, an annual campaign, organized by the nonprofit organization Do Something. The campaign encourages people, specifically adolescents, to hand over their old, unworn jeans in order to help clothe homeless youth.
Guerriero received a notice about the drive via email and posed it to the squad.
"One out of 18 children that are homeless are girls, and the one thing they all want is jeans," said Guerriero.
The cheerleaders were immediately on board.
"They all said that would be fantastic and that they all have jeans at home they didn't wear anymore. We decided it was something we were going to try," she said.
Do Something is working in conjunction with clothing chain Aeropostale. Residents can drop off jeans at the high school up until Feb. 10. Then, Guerriero is taking the load of collected denim to Aeropostale in Nashua, N.H. They will then turn it all over to Do Something.
"The jeans then go directly to a homeless shelter in that community that serves homeless teens and children," said Do Something campaigns associate Farah Sheikh.
Every Aeropostale store is collecting donations. Anybody who turns a pair of jeans directly to the store gets 25 percent off of a new pair of jeans for each donated pair.
However, there is an added benefit in turning the old pairs to the cheerleading squad. The high school that collects the most pairs of jeans receives a $10,000 grant for their school, school spirit hoodies for every student and a pizza party. The first and second runners up receive $5,000. The middle school and the Canadian school that turn in the most pairs also receive a $5,000 grant.
"This would really be an incredible thing," said Guerriero. "Right now, who couldn't use $10,000?"
When the campaign was first launched six years ago, the organization surveyed homeless shelters across the country. Every year, said Sheikh, there are 1.7 million homeless people under the age of 18 in the U.S., one in every 45 children in homeless and 23 percent of homeless people in the U.S. are families with children.
And the number one item that homeless teenagers continue to request is a pair of blue jeans.
"It helps them to feel normal and safe to go to school. They can wear them several days in a row without feeling like people are giving them weird looks," said Sheikh. "It gives them a sense of normalcy and makes them feel a little bit more like a regular teenager instead of somebody that has this huge issue they're facing."
Teens for Jeans is just one of several campaigns organized by Do Something. Each year, said Sheikh, the organization runs between 20 and 25 cause campaigns, ranging from animals to bullying to bone marrow transplants. But Teens for Jeans is one of the biggest every year, she said. Since the campaign was launched, Do Something has collected more than 2.5 million pairs of jeans across the U.S. and Canada.
Each year, the number continues to increase: The first year, they collected 125,000 pairs. Last year, they collected over a million.
"It was enough to clothe two thirds of the homeless youth in the U.S.," said Sheikh. "We wish we would give a roof over everyone's heads, but if we can't, we like to at least provide something to give them a sense of normalcy."
Meanwhile, the community has responded in droves. Boxes piled with jeans sit against the walls of the school's front lobby; Guerriero's back shed is packed to the brim with boxes full of donated denim. She is packaging every 500 pairs collected to bring to Aeropostale.
"It's a very giving community," said Guerriero.
But the squad is still accepting more.
"We have over 1,000 students in the high school. If everyone in school brought in one pair of jeans, we'd have 1,000 pairs of jeans," she said.
Although Do Something's collection ends in the middle of February, Guerriero is considering extending the North Middlesex drive and donating the jeans to local charitable organizations.
"People need help, and any way we can help them, we will," said Guerriero.