Shenee Crespo’s days start early, often well before the sun rises and her five children are awakened for the mad scramble that is their morning routine. There’s breakfast and getting the younger ones dressed and ready for daycare.
Crespo doesn’t have a car, so when she isn’t able to catch a ride with a co-worker, she spends four hours on public transit each day, commuting back and forth to her job on Long Island as a corporate biller. Then it’s home to cook for her kids, help them with homework, study for her online college courses and squeeze in a session of Zumba via their PlayStation to help manage her neuropathy (a disorder of the nervous system) before going to bed and doing it all again the next day.
She often struggles to make ends meet. After paying her family’s living expenses and also helping her mother financially, she has little left over to spend on herself. Crespo, a bubbly and curvaceous woman of African-American and Puerto Rican descent, owns only one pair of jeans and two pairs of shoes.
But with the help of celebrity stylist Sam Russell, Crespo’s wardrobe — and spirits — both recently got a major boost after being surprised with a $10,000 fashion giveaway.
“This is like a dream. I never do anything for myself. My children always come first,” said Crespo. “So I’m beyond grateful for this awesome surprise.”
And to understand the power of this gift, you have to understand the man who made it all happen.
Celebrity stylist Russell dresses some of Hollywood’s brightest stars, from music legend Stevie Wonder to actors like John Hamm and Sophia Bush, to name a few.
But beyond pulling together head-to-toe ensembles for red carpet events or onscreen roles, Russell makes sure his clients are well taken care of in the “swag” department — you know, free stuff.
The unfortunate truth is that the rich, powerful and famous folks, who can actually afford the items, are usually the first (and often only) people who are gifted the goods.
“I have requested so much swag over the years for celebrities, celebrities’ girlfriends and boyfriends, handlers and family — I basically became ‘The Swag Guy,'” Russell told The Huffington Post.
The relationships that Russell has cultivated over the years within the fashion and beauty industry give him easy access to anything from a tube of lip gloss to a luxury designer bag.
But Russell knew he could do so much more with his influence and resources: Something big, something inspiring, something to show that “fashion really does have a heart,” Russell said.
So in September 2011 Russell launched The Giving Closet, his very own fashion giveaway mission, where he surprises deserving women with a fashion giveaway worth approximately $10,000, including clothes, accessories, beauty products and styling services.
Most companies are thrilled to help Russell in his altruistic pursuits, fulfilling his requests without hesitation and making sure he reaches his goal of securing thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise. But that’s not to say Russell hasn’t run into some obstacles.
“I’ve definitely had to deal with some snobbery — companies unwilling to extend their product to regular women — and I’ve also heard the ‘we don’t do plus-size women’ excuse,” Russell said.
Yet like something out of a storybook, Russell has managed to transform himself into the ultimate fairy (fashion) godfather.
By reaching out to various social care and nonprofit organizations across the country, Russell finds his recipients. Crespo is the third recipient of what Russell hopes are many more giveaways for the Giving Closet.
It was Crespo’s involvement with the 85-year-old Family Service League that prompted the agency to nominate her for the amazing opportunity.
“The best promotion for the agency and the work we do is through people that we have successfully assisted,” Larry Weiss, senior vice president of programs, told The Huffington Post. “So it’s wonderful to see Shenee being honored with something like this.”
Crespo credits the Family Service League for turning her life around. The agency was able to give her a computer several years ago, which allowed Crespo to take online college courses and fulfill her dream of getting an education. In fact, next month she will receive her Masters in Business Administration.
“My drive comes from the people that depend on me. Everything I do is for my children,” Crespo said. “I plan to go to law school next and then open my own law firm.”
Russell’s connection with Crepso goes beyond simply gifting her clothes. He understands the struggles of women like Crespo who have persevered through extraordinary challenges in life. He calls them “survivors” — and his mother was one. She, along with Russell and his two brothers, endured years of physical, verbal and emotional abuse by her husband until day he died, when Russell was 15 years old.
They made it through and now Russell’s doing his part to celebrate those who have done the same.
“I’m just a vessel for this, it has nothing to do with me,” Russell said. “Shenee is a survivor. I’m doing this for all the survivors.”
Special thanks to the following companies for donating items for the giveaway: Sienna Rose, Paul Frank, Single Dress by Galina, Guy & Eva, Bed Stu, Elaine Turner, BEARPAW, Gwyneth Shoes, AMI ClubWear, Dermaesthetics USA and Whitening Lightning.