The clothing distribution for veterans and military personnel was billed as a Suits for Soldiers event.
Break it down to the individual level, however, and it became a suit for a student, a suit for a prospective social worker, and even a suit for a ballroom dancer.
Those were some of the things people had in mind when they tried on civilian apparel Friday morning at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7824.
“It’s been a while since I wore a suit,” said Thomas Peck. The Vancouver resident said he served in the Army Reserves in the 1990s.
He is studying drafting at Clark College, and is in the market for professional attire.
“I have two quarters left, and I’ll be starting a job search,” said Peck, who learned about the event at the college’s Veterans Resource Center.
As Jana Glover examined a rack of women’s wear, she said, “I love suits.”
Glover said she served in the Navy from 1996 to 1999 and receives payments for a service-related disability.
“I want to get a master’s degree in social work at Portland State University,” Glover said.
Jeff Clem was in the Army National Guard from 1979 to 1985.
“I did become homeless and was living in my car,” he said.
Clem, from Gresham, Oregon, learned about Friday’s event through a Portland transition project. His goal?
“I came to get a suit for ballroom dancing,” said Clem, 57. “It’s good exercise, and it’s a good social group.”
More than 3,100 donated items of business clothing for men and women were available Friday. That’s four times the donations received in 2016, when the Farmers Insurance district office in Vancouver debuted the program, organizer Ann Valentine said.
Because of the bigger response, this year’s event was moved from the district office to the Vancouver Heights VFW post.
The racks of suits and tables stacked with other clothing didn’t leave a lot of room for the post’s usual clientele.
“Yeah, but it’s going to a good cause,” said Terry Clark, post commander. ”I thought there might be four or five racks of clothes. This is way beyond my expectations.“
All that clothing was donated through a network that covered a good swath of Southwest Washington.
“Our district is comprised of about 60 Farmers Insurance agencies stretching north to Longview and east to Goldendale,” said Valentine, a district training manager.
Donations came from beyond that.
A Farmers Insurance agency in La Pine, Oregon – 30 miles south of Bend – collected more than 200 articles of clothing, she said.
”Most of the people who donated had served in the military, or had an immediate family member who had served.“
When families were unable to drop off donations at the district office, Valentine picked up some of them up. It gave her a chance to learn more about the families.
About 10 of those donors ”were widows whose husbands had served in the military,” she said. ”For some widows, their husbands had passed away a few years ago and they felt it was time to let go of the clothes.
“Others had lost their loved one more recently,” Valentine said. “I believe that for many of them, donating their spouse’s clothing was a special way to honor their service and pay it forward to current military personnel and veterans.”
Valentine remembers one suit in particular. She and the woman making the donation checked the pockets.
“We found a grocery list in her husband’s handwriting,” Valentine said. “It meant a lot to her.”
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