Interview with Lani Brunn- Volunteer coordinator & Board of Directors
We had the opportunity to visit the Working Gear shop on a busy Wednesday evening. It was the first time that we visited the shop and we had a very pleasant experience chatting with some of the staff and volunteers.
Working Gear is an organization where work-ready men that lack the appropriate attire can get what they need free of cost. Working Gear Clothing Society is managed and ran by volunteers with no government funding. We interviewed Lani Bruun, who’s been a volunteer for 11 years and counting. Lani coordinates volunteers & campaigns, and she is also part of the Board of Directors.
What motivates you to volunteer at Working Gear?
For me, it’s the simplicity of our mission, it’s the fact that there this organization provides services to people who are back on their feet, who are ready for a second chance. If they don’t have the trade’s gear, if they don’t have the right interview clothes they don’t get the job. You can’t even walk into a construction site without having the steel toed boots. I almost think of it as a hinge in the door. It’s a very small piece but without it, the door does not open.
For me, the motivation is the fact that we are volunteer driven, it’s people donations, it’s really the community caring for their community.
Can you tell us a story about your time here that has stay with you?
It’s funny cause I am not in the shop as much anymore. I, probably for the first 7 years that I volunteered, I was in the shop every month. Mostly a lot of the stuff I do now is governance and support for the organization. One story that has always stayed with me is one when there was an old fellow that came one day, when I was volunteering. And he used to be a businessman, he used to have a really great life, he had a house, he had a job, he had nice clothes, but everything fell apart. He lost his way. He was an alcoholic, he ended up losing his job, he ended up losing his family. He basically lived really rough for about 10 years. When he came in that night, it was me and Stephen volunteering. We suited him up with this gorgeous suit cause he was ready, he was just ready. And he had done so much to be ready, it was his time. And he looked really good. But Stephen was like, no no no, it’s not right yet. So Stephen went and found this amazing dress jacket, with the little flaps and then he found this gorgeous expensive men’s scarf. And as soon as this fellow put it on, I watched him stand up straight, his shoulders went back. I often thought about how when he put this coat on, it felt like he was putting on dignity. And it felt like he knew he was back to he was.
How much of an impact Working Gear is making in the community?
I think we are making an impact in the community that is not huge, but it’s necessary. There are places that have tables stacked with donated clothes that people rifle through. But they don’t often find the right things, they don’t find the things that fit or they are not appropriate for an interview or for a job. I think that at Working Gear, because what’s happening here in the back, we are sorting all the clothes, we are making sure that it’s the right stuff, that they are clean. But it’s the right stuff and we make sure it’s the right people get it. The impact in the community is that people that are ready for that life change, they get to have it, they get to have their chance. Where often people wouldn’t given them a chance because they didn’t have the right interview clothes.
What can you tell potential donors about the organization, how would their money contribute the cause?
Our expenses are low, so basically for 3 or 4 grand a month, everything runs. I think it ends up costing us about 25 dollars for each person, that comes through the door. We can do all that we do for very little, there is not a lot of organizations that can say that. Also, we don’t feed funding. It’s so needed but this isn’t an area you can find funding for. And so it really needs to be the community coming together and supporting. And that’s what we find. Our donors are usually people that want to give someone a second chance. They want to give to a place where is going to make a huge difference. This money we receive goes to keep our doors open, we pay our rent, we buy steel toed boots (which are expensive) we make sure we have the right gear here.
We want to thank Lani for her time and we’d love for you to join us for an evening of entertainment, networking, food, and drinks on June 6th at our Working Gear’s annual fundraising event – Gear to Give. All to benefit the economic empowerment of unemployed or underemployed men and women.
B.C.’s restaurant industry is growing rapidly and Vancouver is becoming a leader in the culinary world. But the high demand for dining out is contributing to a serious labor shortage in the industry. More and more clients are being referred to Working Gear in search of culinary clothing and footwear to start their culinary career journey. Working Gear is in desperate need of culinary donations to help match this need in our community.
Working Gear is accepting both new and gently used kitchen apparel and footwear.
Donations can be dropped off at Working Gear’s shop at 520 Powell Street, during the hours of 6 pm and 8 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays and 10 am and noon on Saturdays.
Please email email@example.com for more information
Working Gear welcomes Our New Barber Sean Murphy
Working Gear is delighted to welcome our new barber Sean Murphy. Sean is an apprentice barber who is excited about being given the opportunity to help those in need. Sean is in our shop on Wednesday nights from 6 pm to 8 pm.
Haircuts are first to come are first served.
Working Gear is grateful to all our volunteers. We would not exist without them.
Working Gear would not exist without our volunteers. As a way to pay gratitude, as well as inspire, Volunteer Stories is series of interviews that highlight our volunteers’ hard work as well as their experiences with Working Gear. We are excited to introduce our diverse family of volunteers to the Working Gear community.
Alysha Osborne is Working Gear’s Resident Barber
I’m Alysha. I’ve been doing hair for 9 years and have been living in Vancouver since 2012. This city has offered me everything I’ve looked for and haven’t been able to find anywhere else. I am originally from Ontario and slowly worked my way out west.
Q. How long have you been involved with Working Gear/ the Downtown Eastside (DTES)?
A.I’ve been with Working Gear since November of 2017 and have been working with people in the DTES since August of 2017. I went to a hair awards show last year and got inspired. My initial drive was to compete but find a way to give back at the same time. I’d been living in Gastown for a year and had gotten to know the “locals”. It started to irritate me that there was a certain stigma/assumption of the people on the DTES, and I wanted to change that. Everyone I talked to had a story and I quickly became friends with many of them. After talking with my photographer friend Mihailo about my idea, we decided to start doing a project dedicated to the look good, feel good attitude. Soon after, I was so invested in this project that I’m no longer caring for or entering the competition, I am dedicating my time to changing the general perspective of other Vancouverites for people on the DTES.
Q. What is your view on volunteering and volunteerism?
A. I’ve done random volunteer work in the past but nothing that I’ve been as passionate about. Find what inspires you. We have a lot of free time, so find something that resonates with you and just take it from there. My step-mother told me stories of her upbringing. She ran away at the age 14 and by age 19 was a prostitute for 5 years on the DTES. Hearing the stories and her struggles, it really hit home that I am able to help people that are/were in her position and who are trying to move forward in their lives.
Q.What is the most challenging thing about volunteering? What is the most rewarding thing about volunteering?
A. The most challenging is hearing the stories. Whether it be circumstance or the struggle. At the same time, the most rewarding thing is people trusting you enough to tell you their stories. Another reward is seeing a client’s transformation in front of you. A lot of people I see come in shy and quiet and by the time we’re done they’re all smiles, confident and genuinely happy. I don’t ask for anyone to do anything when we take before and after photos, but I’ve noticed a theme where the before is reserved and serious and the after is calm and happy.
Q. What is something about Working Gear you wish people knew?
A. I wish more people knew about this amazing organization. There are so many people in need and the general public always has clothes/tools they don’t need and don’t know what to do with. Everyone that works at Working Gear really cares and goes out of their way to make more happen. It’s a great cause and we need to get the word out there more!
Q. What is your best advice for people who want to get involved in volunteering but don’t know how?
A. When I was starting my project with Mihailo, I got a little lost on how to move forward. There are so many volunteer opportunities out there just Google or ask around. Don’t be scared to ask for direction. These organizations are always looking for help so once you put it out there you will have a lot of opportunity to find what fits best for you.
Photography Credit: Mihailo Subotic of Snap Edit Show Photography