Crystal Cooper has been out of work for more than three years, and, for some of that time, has been homeless.
As she continues to search for work, she’s hopeful that the business suit she received from Dress for Success for job interviews will give her an edge over the competition.
In early 2008, Cooper said, she was working as the assistant manager of a truck stop.
She was renting a house with her brother as her roommate, making payments on a car and caring for her young daughter.
“Life was busy and it was full and it was very challenging,” she said. “At the same time, I was still a very lonely person.”
She became involved with a man she now describes as “abusive” and a “con man.”
“Anything he said to do, I did,” Cooper said.
Cooper quit her job in February 2008 and moved in with her boyfriend.
“I got into that mindset he was going to take care of me,” she said, “and he didn’t.”
Cooper left the relationship after eight months. She had lost her car after failing to keep up with the payments and her credit was ruined.
“I had lost everything besides the clothes on my back and the diaper bag with my daughter’s things in it,” she said.
Because Cooper was unable to care for her, Cooper’s daughter was eventually placed in foster care.
Cooper now lives in an apartment with her mother and is trying to get her daughter back.
Cooper contacted Dress for Success in the fall of 2010. She was looking for a job, she said, but with only jeans and a T-shirt, she felt like her attire was standing in the way.
Cooper was the first client served by the new Dress for Success affiliate in Baton Rouge.
She received a suit to wear to job interviews, along with earrings, necklace, black shoes and socks.
She was even given a briefcase.
“Even though I tried to talk them out of it, they said I needed it to complete the look,” Cooper said.
Dress for Success founding member Connie Hall said her agency receives a great deal of donated clothing, but much of it is unusable.
She attributes that to people in the community being unclear of the Dress for Success mission, which is not to be a source of secondhand clothing for women down on their luck.
The organization fits women into suits appropriate for job interviews in the industry the women are interviewing in. After finding a job, the woman can return for a week’s worth of clothing that can be mixed and matched for several outfits.
The agency, however, has received jogging suits, evening gowns and fur coats, Hall said.
A lot of the clothing that would be appropriate is dirty, she said.
A designer-label suit with a spaghetti stain is not suitable for a job interview, she said.
The agency donates items it can’t use that are in good condition to other organizations, Hall said.
When making a donation, it’s important to do some research and find the best fit for items, local nonprofits said.
Nonprofit organizations like The Salvation Army of Greater Baton Rouge and Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Louisiana also receive quite a bit of unusable items that they must dispose of.
Michael Acaldo, chief executive officer of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said his agency will “pretty much take all clothes, as long as they’re not wet.”
The agency also accepts furniture and other household items, appliances, medicines for its pharmacy and adult toiletries and baby items for its shelter.
“We’re kind of a catchall, we receive donations of so many different things,” Acaldo said.
Acaldo said 99 percent of donations are fantastic.
Soiled mattresses and stained or torn upholstery, however, are unusable.
“Sometimes, people with really good intentions don’t realize the cost of upholstering a sofa or a chair is really expensive,” Acaldo said.
People also have left donations outside when the office is not open.
“If it’s been out on your carport for a few months and the rain has whipped a little bit, we can’t accept that,” Acaldo said.
Sabrina Written, marketing manager for Goodwill, said her agency does not accept toys due to concerns about lead and bisphenol A.
Children’s bicycles also are not accepted, although bicycles for adults are.
Goodwill does not accept large appliances, mattresses or box springs.
The agency has a need for shoes of all sizes, especially children’s shoes, Written said.
Clothing does not have to look brand new, but it should not be stained or torn.
“If it’s something you wouldn’t give to a friend, you probably shouldn’t donate it,” she said.
Maj. Stephen Long of The Salvation Army said his agency has received donated refrigerators that don’t keep food cold and dryers with broken heating elements.
“If it’s damaged and you know it’s damaged, we shouldn’t have to spend Salvation Army dollars to make a dump run,” he said.
The agency doesn’t do any mending of ripped upholstery either.
“If it’s a little weather worn, that’s a different story,” Long said.
Most needed items include dishes, pots, pans and other kitchenette items to provide to needy families, he said.