- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - At first glance, there is nothing glitzy or glamorous about the Community Clothes Closet in Dubuque.

Tucked away on the lower level of Northeast Iowa Community College Town Clock Business Center, the densely packed room features a variety of items, including used dress shirts, suit coats, formal shoes and ties.

For the men and women who utilize the service, however, the collection of gently worn clothing has the potential to make a world of difference.

“It is amazing to see the impact an outfit can make to them,” said Mandi Mohr, a volunteer with Community Clothes Closet. “I think the biggest thing it does is bring confidence to these people.”

The Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/1QCWOpp ) reports that the closet opened in January after nearly one year of planning and preparation.

The initiative aims to provide clothing for residents preparing for interviews or beginning new jobs. It is a joint effort between NICC and Women United, a group of women associated with United Way of Dubuque Area Tri-States.

Amy Wagner, co-chairwoman of Women United, said it was launched in response to a growing community need.

“We began hearing that there are a lot of people who want to join the workforce, who are looking for a job, but had real difficulty finding appropriate clothing to get them to that first paycheck,” Wagner said. “It became clear that, for many people, this was a real hurdle to finding employment.”

She said Project Concern, a Dubuque-based organization providing services for individuals and families living in poverty, serves as the “gatekeeper” for the Community Clothes Closet.

Sarah Wicks, of Project Concern, said residents in need can inquire by dialing 211. The closet is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays. People also can make appointments.

Only about a dozen clients have taken advantage of the service so far, but Wicks said they have been impressed by services provided.

“I think they’ve been pleasantly surprised by the selection and the quality of clothes, as well as the way they are treated,” Wicks said.

In addition to helping individuals pick the clothes they need, which they will get to keep, volunteers also offer advice on how to interview for a job.

For Madi Jantsch, an industrial recruiter at Express Employment and volunteer at the closet, the experience has been eye-opening.

“It has really surprised me how many people do not have the resources to get past the first step (in finding employment),” she said.

Jantsch has worked with prospective employees who had to turn down jobs because they did not own the steel-toed boots or other safety equipment required for certain positions. Others were unable to take jobs as banquet servers because they lacked the white, button-down shirts and black pants needed.

Wagner will aim to spread awareness about Community Clothes Closet later this year, when she participates in “Dancing With The Stars Dubuque Style” to raise money for the initiative.

Although the initiative has collected about 1,000 articles of clothing, the program is still in need of most men’s items and some footwear, including work boots, Wagner said.

Community Clothes Closet is not the only local program focused on providing free professional attire.

At the University of Dubuque, enrolled students have access to the Future Young Professionals’ Success Shop. The shop, now in its third year of operation, features business casual and professional attire, including shoes, shirts, jackets, pants and skirts.

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com


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