Sara Zaghi: Helping the homeless through jean therapy


Sara Zaghi, a 19-year-old sophomore at UCLA, is committed to bettering the lives of homeless youth by providing them with something she believes everyone should have: a pair of jeans.

“Homeless teens don’t have the same clothes as everyone; they don’t fit in with everyone else. It’s not just about giving them jeans — which is important to help clothe them — but about battling these stereotypes about homelessness,” Zaghi said. “I think it’s important, a great way to give back, and I think it’s super easy, something everyone has and something everyone can do.”

January will mark six years since Zaghi started the citywide jeans collection drive as a partnership with Teens for Jeans, an initiative of the youth-oriented nonprofit dosomething.org, which says jeans are one of the most requested items among homeless youth. 

Working with 20 local businesses, 10 schools and major businesses, including Buffalo Exchange, a used clothing store chain, Zaghi has collected approximately 16,000 pairs of jeans in the past five years. She developed the idea as a freshman at Taft Charter High School in Woodland Hills, where she served on student government, edited the school newspaper and organized a fashion show.

“I was literally in, like, every club,” she said of her years at Taft.

Her focus on social change is not limited to helping the homeless. In 2014, again working with dosomething.org, she created the national campaign Shower Songs, a water conservation effort that involves compiling a five-minute playlist of songs and sharing the playlist with friends. The idea is to listen to music in the shower and reduce one’s showering time to the length of the playlist. 

“I’m, like, at 15 minutes, which is saying a lot,” she said. “I used to take really long showers.”

A resident of Tarzana and the youngest of three siblings (her brother Justin also made the Mensch List this year), Zaghi is a member of Valley Beth Shalom, where she’s become a leader in the temple’s United Synagogue Youth tikkun olam committee.

“Being involved in the Jewish community is really important to me, especially fulfilling tikkun olam,” said Zaghi, who currently is on the board of the Persian Community at Hillel at UCLA. “Our duty is to do mitzvot.”

Zaghi, who is studying communications at UCLA and hopes to work in entertainment pubic relations, interned last summer for Kris Jenner, matriarch of the Kardashian clan.

“I really look up to her,” Zaghi said of Jenner. “A lot of people think of the Kardashians in a bad light, but I truly think Kris is very smart in the way she has handled the family and their businesses in the past few years, and they really turned this one opportunity” — the reality show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” —  “into a lifetime of success for the whole family.”

Zaghi’s family’s business, meanwhile, is Subway restaurants. Her father owns three, and Zaghi has helped out often in the stores.

“I’ve grown up with Subway,” she said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zaghi relaxes by watching “Shark Tank,” a reality show featuring entrepreneurs who pitch their ideas to successful business people.

How would she pitch her jeans drive to the panel of “sharks”?

“I would just pitch it as a very easy way to give back, and also there are a lot of opportunities for them to partner with any big businesses they have as a promotional social action campaign,” she said. “That’s the angle I would go with, especially since all the sharks have connections with clothing stores or teen brands, which could help us with the drive.”