When you hear that Sarah Beley, 33, has helped thousands of people dress their best for a job interview, you might imagine she's a stylist or fashion assistant working out of a high-end closet.
Instead, on the weekends, you can find her on Vancouver's Powell Street, sorting through piles of donated clothing to get dress shirts and other work-related items to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford them.
For the past four years Beley has been the operations manager of Working Gear, a volunteer-run clothing society that works to "relieve poverty by providing interview clothing and/or industry appropriate clothing to low-income or unemployed individuals in search of employment," according to their website.
On Friday, she was recognized by the City of Vancouver for her work, which this year — with just 30 volunteers — helped about 1,000 people, and prevented two tonnes of clothing from ending up in a landfill. She received a plaque in recognition of her efforts.
"It's all really overwhelming," Beley said in a phone interview the night after the ceremony and after a day of sorting through donations.
"It was very touching to get singled out, but also kind of really surreal."
Working Gear has since started offering not only office attire, but the gear necessary to work in the trades. It also started offering that protective gear — steel-toed boots, hard hats, high-visibility vests, eye protection and more — to women, as more of them started entering the trades.
Beley said that what you wear to a job interview represents much more than a first impression.
"It's everything. It could be the last barrier that a lot of people face when they're trying to rebuild their life," she said.
"It could be the last barrier that a lot of people face when they're trying to rebuild their life."
"There's a lot of really amazing people that come through that have great education, great experience. But for whatever reason, life's been a little hard, they lost everything and if they don't have the clothing, they won't get the job."
Many temp agencies and construction companies won't hire prospective workers if they don't own their own equipment, Beley explained.
Working Gear also recently started offering barber and hair services, finding that while many salons offer gift certificates to low-income people, they often go unused.
"If you're not feeling great about yourself you're not going to leave where you're comfortable and go to a high-end salon," she said. "It actually made more sense to bring the barber services and the hair services to the community."
'Our work is having an impact'
Beley recalled a man who wandered in on a rainy November day wearing slippers covered in duct tape. He said he'd recently gotten out of jail.
Volunteers outfitted him with rain gear, trade gear, and new boots and sent him on his way. The next week Beley spotted him working on a construction site.
"He was just waving at me and telling me thank you ... that to me showed what we're doing is working. Our work is having an impact."
Managing operations at Working Gear isn't Beley's full-time gig. Monday to Friday she works as an office manager at a company in Burnaby. Asked how she balances it all, she said she's tried to bring the two worlds together by recruiting her friends as volunteers.
"It does affect my social life a bit. But it's just something I'm really passionate about," she said.