Thursday, March 11, 1999

Recycle plan: Old clothes make new life

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Have you started your spring cleaning yet? I haven't, and I say people who already have cleaned their closets and shampooed their rugs are twisted. People who have changed their shelf paper are beyond twisted.

        But I'd like to make a deal with everybody who still has work to do, specifically the normal people who haven't yet tackled their closets.

        What if your Jones New York jacket — the one that's a little large now that you've been laying off the Graeter's — could help give somebody a new life? It's possible.

        It might be somebody who has never in her life needed work clothes because she has never had a job before. But she is ready for one now and your Kasper suit — the one that turned out not to be your color after all — could get her in the door.

Taxpayer freebie
        Pat Henderson is the manager of a little shop called the Opportunity Closet. Her typical customer — she calls them “clients” — is a single mother who is right on the edge of going from “welfare to work.”

        The thing is, this woman has nothing to wear. Really, seriously, nothing to wear. “Some of our clients don't even have bus fare,” Pat says. And they sure don't have a good suit for a job interview or anything to wear to work if they get the job.

        “They've done the hard part,” Pat says. “They're ready to work. But they can't show up in stretch pants and a T-shirt.” Besides, when you go out to get a job, you need to feel on top of the world. Valuable.

        There are lots of little pieces to welfare reform; this is one of them.

        This piece is not costing taxpayers a dime. A bunch of Police Academy recruits came in and painted the walls of what Pat likes to think of as her boutique in the FreeStore/FoodBank center downtown. Some high school boys put up display racks, and three women who have retail experience volunteer as sales consultants.

        Except, of course, nothing is for sale. It is free, absolutely free. All a customer has to do is produce a referral from a job training program. They're outfitted for the interview, then they can come back for work clothes if they are hired.

Preferred customers
        They are treated as though they have a platinum Visa card, with dignity and splendid service. Volunteers pull together entire outfits, including scarves, costume jewelry and new underwear. “They feel great when they see how good they look,” says Pat, a pediatric nurse turned volunteer.

        I can see why. The clothing is high quality, carefully laundered. “One of our volunteers is an 84-year-old woman who comes in and irons,” says Beth Dieter, the FreeStore's volunteer manager.

        Just this month, Beth arranged for the Opportunity Closet to become part of a national network of such shops, called Dressed for Success.

        “We'll be eligible for national distribution,” Beth says. “For instance, Sears might give away 1,000 blouses. We could order some of them.” Dressed for Success is located in New York City's garment district and has access to significant donations from companies there.

        Cincinnati's Opportunity Closet is ready to begin its spring line. Right now, they especially need larger sizes for both men and women. They also could use shoes in wide sizes. They need new underwear, maternity clothes and nurses' smocks.

        Here's the deal. You put the best clothes you have that you can spare in your car and drive down to the FreeStore/FoodBank's collection center at 112 E. Liberty St., downtown. (Don't forget to inventory your shoes, belts and purses.) Pull into the drive-through between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

        Tell the person on duty that you want your things to go to the Opportunity Closet. Don't forget to ask for a receipt. In addition to more closet space, you can get a tax deduction.

        But the real payoff is that this deal includes the certain knowledge that you have sent somebody out into the world dressed to succeed.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and on NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at