(Photo Credit: Mike Rathjen)
It’s been a busy summer for volunteers at Vancouver’s Working Gear Clothing Society. Each Saturday from 10:00am until 2:00pm job-ready men, or “customers”, show up by appointment to be fitted for dress pants, shirts, construction gear, steel-toe boots, and even three-piece suits.
The men, that Working Gear sees, come from very different backgrounds and ages but at the core their stories are similar – they are trying to better themselves by finding legal and full-time employment. Some have struggled with drugs, alcohol, depression and low self-esteem, yet all are determined to fight against the past and begin a new life. The next step to this new life begins with full time employment. Working Gear Clothing Society believes that if they can help make them look polished, professional and work-appropriate then it just might help them land the job and give them confidence as they start the job.
Earlier this summer, with a generous gift from Vancity Savings and Credit Union, the non-profit located in Chinatown, launched a small but spirited campaign called “No Small Feet”. The campaign highlighted the need for donations of steel-toe boots.
Lani Johnson, Vice Chair of the non-profit says, “We tend to get a lot of high quality donations of suits, and dress casual attire but what we always seem to lack are work boots. These can usually cost men upwards of one hundred dollars and is a huge setback to finding work with construction or utility companies. While we need great clothes, we also need boots.”
Since the campaign launched, Working Gear Clothing Society has seen 127 pairs of boots donated. Organizations like Coast Mountain and the Vancouver Police Department are working with the No Small Feet campaign to set up donation bins at their headquarters for workers and officers to drop off used boots. The Canadian Border Services Agency at YVR recently made a significant donation of steel toe boots, and Telus has also stepped in and donated high quality work gear. The non-profit has also received cash and clothing donations from individuals and other organizations in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.
“We are so grateful to our supporters – both individuals and corporations,” says Johnson. We could not do this alone, and we truly feel the support of those that have contributed.”
Since the non-profit opened its doors in November of 2007 it has helped over 730 men – something that Johnson and the Working Gear board are thrilled about. However, with a slow donation year it has become stressful financially for the organization. Johnson shares, “We are a micro non-profit with no paid staff. This ensures that 100% of all donations and contributions that we receive go directly to the men that we help, and this is so great. But in order to keep our doors open and provide support for more men we need to have some regular champions.”
Even though the organization is finding it financially tough, Johnson shares that working with the “customers” is worth the effort and the worry. “When a customer leaves feeling confident and standing a little taller – that is the payoff for us initially. When we later hear that they landed full-time employment and doing well – there is no better feeling. It’s such a success story.”