ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — How can a fashion show help the homeless? Just ask hair stylist Joseph Saavedra.
When Saavedra returned to Albuquerque in 1990 after five years spent working with celebrity clients in California, he was shocked by the growing number of people without homes. He decided to do something about it.
In 1993, he founded Pennies for the Homeless with retired District Court Judge Diane Dal Santo, working first with students in Albuquerque Public Schools, then creating the Pennies for the Homeless High Tea & Fashion Show. The show offers a high-end runway show while raising funds for 25 nonprofits that help the homeless.
“I’ve been in the business long enough – I know how to get to a woman’s heart,” Saavedra says.
This year, the Nov. 11 show at Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town will feature Nha Khanh designs worn by professional models. Attendees can expect “light and airy” feminine gowns on the runway, he says.
“It’s like the models are walking in clouds,” he says.
On the label’s website, designs are described as ethereal, meticulously constructed and inspired by nature and architecture. Nha Khanh designs have been worn by stars like Kim Kardashian and Brooklyn Decker.
Last year, 400 people attended the show and raised $25,000 for New Mexico nonprofits. This year, Saavedra hopes to raise more and double attendance. Pennies for the Homeless is also helping more nonprofits. Last year, Community Kitchen Inc. in Roswell received funds for the first time.
The event will also feature a raffle, arts and crafts booths and a trunk show with Nha Khanh designs.
Event emcee Carla Aragon, author and former TV news anchor, has been involved with Pennies for the Homeless since it began. She says she was drawn in by Saavedra and his passion for the cause. She stayed involved because she saw the impact it made, she adds.
The needs in New Mexico are “growing, growing, growing,” Saavedra says. The many homeless children who attend Albuquerque Public Schools are particularly heartbreaking, he says.
At the APS Title 1 Homeless Project, which provides resources like food, clothing, backpacks, tutoring and mental health help, liaison Helen Fox says the number of children served has doubled in the past 3 1/2 years. Last year, the organization helped 7,109 students; she expects to serve even more this year.
Students who receive help live in precarious situations, like in cars, motels and shelters, or couch-surf at different homes. Many high schoolers helped by the project live on their own, and the extra support helps them stay in school, Fox says.