Sunday, September 14, 2003

Mary Ivers and the Miracle on Fourth Street

Laura Pulfer

Our house has enormous closets. And lots of 'em.

This allows me to live in Body Fantasyland at the intersection of Deep Denial, a place where men and women in white lab coats eventually will come up with an anti-fat pill. They'll discover a miracle drug that works on fat roughly the way Beano works on gas. You know, if you suspect that what you are about to eat will attach itself to your hips and thighs, just take Fat-O first.

Tantalizing progress has been made over the years, mostly among lab mice. This was fabulous for all the mice planning to attend class reunions, but people are still stuck with advice to eat sensibly and exercise if they want to fit into their skinny clothes. Which, in my case, are hanging in the back of one of those big closets waiting for a miracle. Even farther back are my fat clothes, emergency purchases for special occasions when civilized people were expected to show up in jackets that actually buttoned. I hope never to need them again, but they are just too good to throw away.

My big, fat closets are beginning to bulge.

Mary Ivers has a fitness plan. Not for me - for the closets. She is the founder and CEO of Dress for Success, a small but critical piece of welfare reform.

Imagine struggling to get yourself ready to work. Let's say you start with absolutely nothing. Maybe not even a high school diploma. But one of the job readiness programs in town has helped you learn the skills you need. But you have to get hired first. Imagine pawing through a closet that is bare, trying to find something to wear to a job interview.

Now imagine your own closet.

What if your Jones New York jacket - the one that's a little large since you've been laying off the Graeter's - could give somebody a new life? 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 Anne Klein suit - the one that turned out not to be your color after all - could get her in the door.

Or maybe it's a woman who ran from abuse, escaping with only the clothes on her back. Wouldn't you love to know your navy winter coat, the one that made you feel like a million bucks, would do the same thing for her?

Dropoffs are Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., plus there's a clothing drive Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at their downtown location, 135 W. Fourth St., between Elm and Race streets. Clothing should be laundered or dry cleaned.

You can also begin filling your closet again. The Fourth Street Boutique, a thrift store at ground level of the building, is open to the public and sells donated non-interview and surplus clothes at bargain prices, and the proceeds help finance Dress for Success upstairs.

By the way, everybody is exceptionally helpful, no matter which floor you're shopping. Customers upstairs, referred by local agencies, are treated as if they are packing a Platinum Visa. But the clothing, accessories, coaching, confidence building are free of charge. Mary says the transformations can be nothing short of miraculous.

So, never mind waiting for the people in white coats. Pull that stuff you'll never wear again out of the back of your closet - including shoes and handbags - and hand it off to Mary. You can make a miracle of your own.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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