Local organizations turn clothing donations into opportunities
Jean Stawarz (center) of Oak Brook, a Poised For Success volunteer, fixes the collar of client Jacqueline Galvez (left) as they select work and interview clothing. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Poised for Success
312 S. Westmore/
Meyers Road, Lombard
The Carousel Shop
23 Calendar Ave.,
The Hope Chest
717 W. Hillgrove Ave., La Grange
Updated: April 23, 2012 10:20AM
Vicky Dawson recalls a specific time in her life when she needed not only clothes but also the right outfit.
Divorce propelled the Burr Ridge mother into the workforce for the very first time after spending 15 years raising kids and running the house.
Struggling to look her best while pinching pennies, Dawson couldn’t afford to buy new clothing. So she purchased a suit from a department store, wore it to an interview and returned it the next day with the tags still attached.
Though Dawson is better situated today, currently pursuing a master’s in finance, the returned blue suit with shoulder pads represented a turning point in her life.
“That suit made all the difference,” she said.
At the time Dawson didn’t know of the free and low-cost clothing services available to her in the west suburbs. To ensure today’s struggling women don’t slip through the cracks, she volunteers with Poised for Success, a Lombard-based organization that provides free interview and business-appropriate clothing to those looking to find work.
“It may seem just like an article of clothing or outfit, but it means a whole lot more for those who use the service,” Dawson said.
Executive Director Gail Foster said these days skills alone don’t guarantee being hired.
“If you don’t have the clothing, someone has already made a judgment about you,” she said. “We’re all about wanting to make someone feel fabulous.”
Poised for Success’ clients are from all walks of life. Some are homeless; others own houses. Most are in their mid-30s. Lately Foster sees more women who have simply fallen on hard times, despite their upbringing, education or previous income.
“Frankly, (a need for help) can happen to anyone who is going through a rough time,” she said. “There is no discrimination for people who are in a job search.”
One-on-one services are by appointment only and come through referrals from social services agencies.
From their first visit, clients walk away with two interview-ready ensembles. Once they secure a job, they can return for three more outfits to complete their workweek wardrobe collection.
The goal is to have women dressed for work from head to toe, so along with clothing they take away shoes, jewelry, and a handbag or briefcase. Clients are treated as customers and offered current and stylish selections.
Volunteer Kathy Hardy of Hinsdale said the quality of the organization’s clothing is superb. She and other volunteers carefully pick through donations once a month to stock the shelves with stylish, classy and conservative wear that is stain- and damage-free.
“You would be surprised by what we have,” she said, noting how just the other day she found an Anne Klein jacket.
Maintaining high standards distinguishes Poised for Success among other clothing organizations. The impact has been considerable: In the last four years nearly 1,000 women have benefited from the organization’s services.
“With the right clothing (women) can compete against anyone in the industry,” Foster said. “The hope is to give some pretty special ladies an opportunity to become self-sufficient through employment.”
This year Poised for Success celebrates its 10th anniversary. Though it is the only free service of its kind in DuPage County, women of the west suburbs are also turning to high-end resale shops to create wardrobes for work.
The Carousel Shop at 23 Calendar Ave. in La Grange sells clothing for women, men and children, in addition to housewares and toys, at steeply discounted prices.
Women’s dress pants sell for $5 to $7; blouses are $5 each; and blazers cost about $9.
While a good suit from a traditional retail store costs hundreds of dollars, at the Carousel Shop they range from $10 to $25 a piece.
Shop manager Lisa Carullo said resale shopping has become more acceptable to those not accustomed to thrifty spending.
“It’s a great way to find something gently used or new with tags,” she said. “And (sales) support a local agency.”
The shop donates all of its proceeds to the Community Nurse Health Association, which provides health services for low-income and uninsured residents of the western suburbs.
A double dose of doing good for individuals and families in need is also how the Hope Chest, 717 W. Hillgrove Ave. in La Grange, operates.
Lavender-colored walls in the upscale women’s resale boutique display its commitment to domestic violence awareness.
Its low-cost, high-end merchandise — Coach purses sell for $20 to $30 — benefits not only its shoppers, but women of the Constance Morris House, too.
Hope Chest provides clothing and funds for victims fleeing abuse.
“Many of them cry since many never even owned things that nice,” said store manager Sandra Maxson.
Whether it’s an unemployed mother going on her first job interview or a formerly battered woman seeking a safe start, a nice outfit does more than dress them appropriately.
Free clothing services and resale shops give women ownership and re-instill their confidence.
“Having their own things and new clothes is like getting a new life,” Maxson said.