Speaking from a telephone at Union Gospel Mission, John Wright’s positivity is infectious. Bright, intelligent and soft-spoken, the 61-year-old is a bit of a Renaissance man. His resume reports that he is a trained Red Seal chef, a lifeguard, and he has worked at several universities. But, with the pressure to succeed came the pressure to use. John started drinking early, then was introduced to marijuana and later succumbed to cocaine addiction. After using for 35 years, he has now recovered — clean and sober — and relearning how to live his life.
For Wright his journey toward health has been long, involving many steps and including an appointment at Working Gear Clothing Society. The non-profit provides trade appropriate clothing at no cost to low-income men who are looking for work. 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. Men are referred to the organization through social services, given an appointment time and are then fitted.
Wright recalls walking into the shop four months ago, hoping to get some work clothes to help land a job. At the time he was looking for steel toe work boots, and unfortunately, went home empty handed. There weren’t any size 12s in the shop – there were hardly any even there. Wright’s need was all too familiar for many unemployed, yet work-ready men. Steel toe boots are expensive, and almost impossible to purchase when you’re on social assistance.
However, after his fitting, Wright did walk away with work pants, a work coat, two shirts, socks – everything he needed except steel toe boots. A few days later, Working Gear located that illusive size 12, but after an assessment, Wright’s arthritic knees couldn’t handle the damp of working outside, so the boots went to someone else in need. That’s something that makes Wright happy. “When you are starting out it’s great to have Working Gear to get you going,” he says.
While working in construction is not in his future, Wright currently has his sights on the pest control industry and is studying to take an exam. Wright says, “I’m taking it nice and slow. Sometimes you can get tripped up very fast. I want to go down the right path.”
Wright is hoping that he’ll find his new employment home soon. “It’s very important to men to work. It keeps you occupied. Keeps your mind going in the right direction. By keeping busy, you keep your hands out of trouble.”
When asked where he sees himself in five years, you can hear Wright smile on the other end of the phone. He’s still a passionate chef and has some culinary tricks to try out on willing appetites. He’s also looking forward to reuniting with his family.
“The spring is coming — then it will be time to spread my wings,” says Wright.
And, Working Gear will be there.
In the early fall, Working Gear Clothing Society embarked on a campaign called “No Small Feet” with the goal of eliciting 400 pairs of steel toe work boots from the community by the end of the year. So far, they have collected 331 pairs and have seen over 580 men come through their doors. The small non-profit also attracted the attention of WorkSafeBC and began a partnership. Together they hope to get the word out to ensure work-ready men obtain functional clothing to keep them safe on work sites.