Dagmar Hargreaves

Dagmar Hargreaves

Program makes a lasting first impression

Dean Cowan of Red Deer had no idea what to do with the almost 10 metres of packed clothing racks his late wife left behind last June. “My wife was always very well dressed.

Dean Cowan of Red Deer had no idea what to do with the almost 10 metres of packed clothing racks his late wife left behind last June.

“My wife was always very well dressed. She worked at The Bay; she was known as the Shoe Lady there,” Cowan, 66, said. “She was always buying shoes and she never threw anything out. … It was getting to the point a few of the racks were so jam-packed, they were collapsing.”

A friend suggested donating all the clothes, purses and shoes to Dress for Success Central Alberta.

DFS, part of the international not-for-profit organization, offers all the necessities to help referred female clients look and feel their best for a job interview. They provide fittings for professional apparel for women heading to interviews and follow-up wardrobe appointments where they pull clothes for a woman’s first full week of work.

Cowan said he couldn’t have been more thrilled to contribute to “something needed so badly by women in our society.”

“To be honest, it almost provides a basic need,” he said.

He added his wife, Doreen Cowan, would have been “very pleased” to see her clothes going towards an effort that helps women get on their feet.

“My wife grew up very poor in Saskatchewan and she was a widow for 11 years before I met her. She took two jobs to get by and raise her daughter. … She went through a lot. There was nothing like Dress For Success back then and limited resources overall for struggling single moms. ”

The donations from the community have been a blessing over the years, said Dagmar Hargreaves, board chair of DFS Central Alberta.

“Sometimes we’ll even find $20 in an envelope under the door. It all means so much to us because it’s not just about clothes; we need financial donations too to keep running.”

The society was started in 2008 and is waiting to hear when it will become a registered charity — hopefully any day now, said Hargreaves.

“It’s a passion of mine because 40 years ago I could have been a client here,” said Hargreaves, an employment counsellor by day. “I saw far too many women who didn’t have appropriate clothing to attend an interview … Arlana Tanner and I did some research and discovered this organization so the project began.”

There are over 141 DFS outlets across the globe and the Red Deer society alone helped 126 women throughout 2013, a large jump from the 80 the previous year.

The goal is simply to help women thrive, Hargreaves said.

“As women I find if we don’t look good, we don’t feel good. If you’re looking for work, you’re stressed enough without having to worry about your appearance. We’ve worked with women who are re-entering the workforce or experiencing a career change or having to go to work due to an adverse situation in their personal lives. Our client really is the everyday woman and we see girls from age 18 to those in their 60s.”

Jan Church has been volunteering with DFS in Red Deer since October and said she loves seeing the clients’ faces beam after they slip on a new outfit.

“One girl came back after she got the job and hugged us and said, ‘Thanks for believing in me,’ ” Church, 67, said. “A lot of them are pretty apprehensive at first and I think many have a hard time asking for help, but we all need help at some point.”

“We laugh and cry with our clients. … We provide a hand up, not a hand out,” Hargreaves added. “It’s important to remember DFS is not a thrift store.”

DFS takes more than clothing donations. Toothpaste, hair products, makeup and jewelry are also accepted. Clothes or other items that are not suitable to DFS’s mandate find their way into storage and are sold during the annual spring inventory reduction sale in May.

“Ladies we’ve suited have come back and started volunteering for us. … As word gets out, it starts to grow and more service organizations are referring to us,” Hargreaves said. “It’s getting better all the time. We have a vision and it’s really starting to come together.”

For more information or to make a donation, call 403-597-8769.