Unique campaign is “No Small Feet”

(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.”

Financial contributions can be made through www.canadahelps.org.
Information on Working Gear Clothing Society can be found at www.workinggear.ca.

Updates on the ”No Small Feet“ campaign and Working Gear can be followed on Twitter at@WorkingGear, or on the Working Gear Facebook account: Working Gear.

Sometimes clothes do make a man. Working Gear changes lives one suit at a time.

(Photo Credit: Mike Rathjen)

Brian Tully sits in a hip, coffee shop just outside of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Dressed in a suit he orders a double espresso and sips it like the gentleman that he is.

Two years ago, after fighting decades of alcohol addiction, Tully finally found his rock bottom. He went into a field, drank a 40-ounce bottle of vodka, and consumed every pill that he had. He then lay down to die. Miraculously he was found by a stranger and woke up in the hospital.

Today the 52-year-old and father of three, is sober. His last drink was on his 50th birthday – a date he will never forget. “I was a drunk since I was 20-years-old. I started drinking when I was twelve. I was a functional alcoholic – extremely functional. I could always go to work,” says Tully.

But over the years alcohol began to destroy his life including his teeth, resulting in severe and painful abscesses. “Alcohol is a great dissolvent. It dissolves relationships, teeth, jobs, money – it dissolves everything,” says Tully.

He cites depression as the force that finally brought him to his knees that almost fateful day in 2008. “For me alcohol was never the issue. Until I figured that out I would continue to fall into the same pattern. I had no purpose in my life.” 

Brian has now been sober for over two years, and with the efforts of support services including work assessment programs, Tully is slowly finding his purpose. He has learned that he has an aptitude for working with seniors and has been volunteering in a seniors centre in Richmond to learn about a career in gerontology.

To prepare him for this career change he was set up with an appointment at Working Gear Clothing Society – a unique non-profit in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that supports work-ready men with free clothing and work gear to match their job and career aspirations.

When asked what the fitting at Working Gear Clothing Society was like Tullys says, “It was a really good experience. It was really fun and relaxed and they (the volunteers) are really great and helpful people.” During his appointment Tully received a pair of DKNY dress pants, shirts, casual pants, a coat, tie, and a dressy wool scarf that he says, “completes the outfit”.

After seeing himself in the mirror with new teeth and new clothes Tully says, “I feel like an alien to be honest with you.” He goes on to share the advice he received from one of the Working Gear Clothing Society volunteers. “He said, ‘wear the clothes…just wear them. Even if you are not going to an interview, put them on and walk around in the new you because it’s like anything – you have to get used to it.’”

Lani Johnson, Vice Chair of Working Gear Clothing Society says, “We aim to provide clothing for low income men that will assist change and open doors. Whether it’s a suit or construction gear we want these men to not only look the part but also to begin to feel real change taking place within. Sometimes it’s just a little thing like a suit or a pair of boots that is keeping someone from getting on the job– and that is why we are here to help.”

Johnson shares that Working Gear is currently in great need of steel toe work boots. “We accept suits and dress clothes, but at the moment we are really needing more new and used boots. We have launched a campaign to raise our need for work boots called “No Small Feet” and are hoping to obtain 400 pairs of boots or financial donations to cover the cost of purchasing them by September 1st.”

When asked where he sees himself in five or so years Tully humbly says, “Working with seniors full time, I would be driving a car again, and I’ll be happy. I don’t have huge plans, it’s not about money anymore – it’s about being content and being happy.”

Information on Working Gear Clothing Society can be found at www.workinggear.ca Donations can be made through www.canadahelps.org.

Updates on the “Not Small Feet” campaign and Working Gear can be followed on Twitter at @WorkingGear, or on the Working Gear Facebook account: Working Gear.

Working Gear launches No Small Feet Campaign

Source: Miss 604 by Rebecca Bolwitt

The Working Gear Clothing Society provides trade appropriate clothing at no cost to low income men who are looking for work.

Mission statement: To relieve poverty by providing interview clothing and/or industry appropriate clothing to low income or unemployed men in search of employment.

The Society says these are men who are job ready, but lack something as simple as a pair of work boots or even a suit and dress shoes for an interview — kind of along the lines of what Dress for Success does for women. This summer they’re launching the “No Small Feet” campaign to collect 400 pairs of steel-toed work boots by September 1st, 2010.

They are looking for steel-toed work boots and shoes although they will also accept financial donations that can be used to purchase these supplies. Volunteers are available to pick up goods and donations in person July 2nd, August 6th, and September 3rd.

Donations can also be dropped off in person at Working Gear Clothing Society (87 East Pender Street) on Saturdays from 10:00am-2:00pm. Please call ahead (604) 880-5040 or email workinggear[at]gmail.com to schedule a pickup or to let them know you’ll be stopping by.

Working Gear is a registered Canadian charity and monetary donations can be made online through CanadaHelps. You can follow updates about the campaign on Twitter @WorkingGear.

Giving unemployment the boot

Source: Vancouver Observer

A young man pulls a pair of steel-toed work boots off the shelf and inspects the soles. He needs a size ten and magically they happen to be his size. With the assistance of a Working Gear volunteer, he also picks out a hard hat, a pair of work gloves and then begins looking at suits to try on. He is hoping to find work in either construction, or in real estate – the career he used to do before drugs spiraled him out of control.

With steely blue eyes and blond hair, 33-year-old Darby Norton looks more like the real estate agent he wants to be, than the person he had become only a few short years ago. “I knew how to get high and stay high but that was about all I knew how to do,” says Norton.

Struggling with addiction, he lost his job and moved in with his brother who ironically, was also fighting addiction to pain medication after being the victim of a motorcycle accident.  The two, struggling with addiction, fed off each other and before long they were both consumed by the drug culture of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Norton is vague about his experiences living as an addict but hints at troubling events like being jumped, his wife’s suicide, using harder and harder drugs, and destroying relationships with the people that tried to help him.

“I realized that it wasn’t at all what I wanted for my life, I don’t think anybody does. I didn’t know I was going to be there but then all of the sudden I was there…things just spiraled to that place. I had a lot of friends who partied but things just went a lot further for me,” says Norton.

That was two years ago. He says, “It’s been a lot of trial and error to get clean. I got out of being around people that did drugs, and then away from people that abused alcohol.” He now associates with people that are healthier and connected spiritually but admits it’s still a struggle. “It’s hard to want to get help, and it’s hard to stay wanting to get help because it’s easy to get caught up in depression and addiction.”

Part of wanting to get help is Norton’s desire to find work, and unique non-profit called Working Gear Clothing Society is helping him get his feet back on solid ground. The organization, located in the Downtown Eastside, supplies donated clothing and work gear specifically to men seeking employment, and now through a unique and spirited campaign called “No Small Feet” it is publicizing the need for steel-toed work boots and shoes.

“To you they might be an old pair of boots or shoes but to our customers they really are a hand-up,” says Lani Johnson Vice Chair of Working Gear Clothing Society. “These men for the most part are on welfare and are actively seeking full-time employment but with just enough money to live on, the added pressure and expense of buying boots and clothing can lead to discouragement for many.”

With the help of a Community Grant from Vancity the “No Small Feet” campaign was created with the aim to collect 400 new and used work boots and shoes for distribution by September 1st.

“We are so grateful to Vancity for their support,” says Johnson.  “There are a lot of organizations and clothing stores in the Downtown Eastside but no one does what we do. We really help these men look sharp and professional as they begin working to change their lives.”

Norton confidently comes out of the fitting room sporting a sharp three-piece suit, crisp white shirt, red tie, and the perfect dress shoes.  The suit fits like it was made for him, and he looks undoubtedly like a real estate agent.  He shares that he has already found some part time work in an office for a Remax agent who understands his past struggles with addiction, and is encouraging him to work towards getting his license renewed.

When asked where he sees himself in five years a determined Norton says, “The real estate opportunity is there, and I’m going to take it, and stick with it, and see where it takes me.”

Updates on the “Not Small Feet” campaign and Working Gear can be followed on Twitter at @WorkingGear, or on the Working Gear Facebook account: Working Gear.