'You could see the tears forming in his eyes': Donated suits program called transformational

A Calgary program that's been quietly connecting donated suits with recovering addicts is being called transformational for its ability to build confidence and lift souls.

Wayne Steer of Fresh Start, an addictions recovery organization, says one young program participant really opened his eyes.

"A young Inuit fellow from the Northwest Territories came to us and he had never worn a suit at all," he said. 

"His gratitude [the graduation event for Fresh Start] was coming up. We said, 'Well, why don't you go find a suit?' So he went down and found this beautiful suit, tie and shirt and went to gratitude and he looked wonderful. People were complimenting him on it and he was smiling.

"When it was all over the next day he folded everything up and he brought it back to us, had it in his arms.

"We said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'I am giving it back.' We said, 'No, that is yours. You could see the tears forming in his eyes."

Steer worked with a downtown menswear retailer a few years ago to get donated suits and business wear in the hands of people struggling with addiction.

"Some people come with nothing but the shirt on their back when they arrive at our place," he said.

'We reached out to our clients'

"For us to be able to have that resource on site, to offer the men some sort of bright spot in their day, is really nice for us to be a part of that. But for the men themselves, for some of them it is first time they have ever had a new suit."

The owner of Supreme Men's Wear said he wanted to be a part of this program.

"We reached out to our clients, asking for gently worn items that we could tighten the buttons on and clean and repurpose for the graduates of Fresh Start," Darren Biedermann told CBC News.

He says the store asks its regular customers to check their closets a couple of times a year.

"Sometimes we receive items every day, so there is a consciousness with our client base that this is what we do and it's going to a great cause."

Chris Miller is a graduate of the Fresh Start program and is now a house representative there. He helps people pick out clothing for a job interview or special event.

"It will bring their self-confidence up and their self-esteem," Miller said.

"It just leads to so many factors, even if they don't get the job."

He says he sees first-hand how some men are impacted by having access to business clothing, some for the first time.

"It's a good feeling because the compliments start," Miller said.

"They are grateful. They take advantage of it in a good way. A smile speaks for itself."

'It was transformational for him'

Meanwhile, Steer says the program can contribute to a turning point in the lives of some men.

"To have something, to own something like that for the first time ever was just, it was transformational for him and many of the guys that come to us," he said.

"It's a way of being something they have never been before. It's sort of a way of celebrating their new found life in sobriety."

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