This October, a donation event called the Ready for Work clothing drive was held by WVU for the first time. The purpose of the event was to collect professional clothes and donate them to people who can’t afford them.

“Our people are our state’s most valuable asset, but sometimes obstacles prevent people from sharing their talents in the workforce,” Rocky Goodwin, WVU’s senior associate vice president for Academic and Public Strategy, said in an email.

The VISTA Collaborative at WVU’s Center for Service and Learning partnered with WV Women Moving Forward to host the clothing drive.

“The VISTA Collaborative decided to do the Ready for Work clothing drive because we came to the agreement that it would be really nice to help out local women,” Cecily Flight, the AmeriCorps VISTA Leader at The VISTA Collaborative at WVU, said.

Flight, a student at WVU, has a background in women in leadership, and has been working with AmeriCorps VISTA for the past two years.

“I’ve always been passionate about service. Doing AmeriCorps for the past two years influenced me the most to be a part of this clothing drive,” Flight said.

WV Forward is a state-wide collaboration led by WVU, the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help grow the economy in efforts of creating a prosperous West Virginia.

The drive helps to connect local nonprofits with in-demand professional items to help West Virginians secure a job or stay at work.

“One common challenge is getting access to the right kinds of work clothes. The WV Forward Ready for Work clothing drive identified the most needed clothing and helped connect resource providers,” Goodwin said.

Donations were offered to Christian Help, Starting Points Family Resource Center and United Way of Monongalia and Preston counties, with nearly 20 different drop-off locations around Morgantown.

“We learned how to run a clothing drive in terms of who to target in getting the right donations as there was a very specific list of needs,” Flight said.

Based on a statewide survey, as well as specific feedback from the local nonprofits, some of the most needed items include professional winter clothing, maternity clothing, solid color scrubs and non-slip shoes sizes 9+.

But this event has greater motives than just providing clothing; it’s helping to solve the inequality within West Virginia.

“WV Women Moving Forward designed the Ready for Work drive based on WV Forward research on how to remove barriers to the workforce. We are also addressing pay equity in West Virginia and enhancing educational opportunities for girls and women.

“Unemployment statistics tell part of the story, but it is important to note that many people who have given up the hope of finding a job are not counted in unemployment statistics,” Goodwin said.

This was the first year WV Women Moving Forward has launched the Ready for Work clothing drive initiative.

“It was a big learning process because we found out that most of the donations were not coming from students, but rather other Morgantown residents. Knowing this now will definitely help for the future of this drive,” Flight said.

More than 1,200 items were collected across Morgantown, and nearly 200 items were collected at WVU Potomac State College.

“The Ready for Work initiative connects the most needed donated clothing items with local charities and organizations on the frontlines of helping West Virginians – particularly women – get ready for work,” Goodwin said.

The drive was centered around women because, according to Goodwin, statistics pinpoint that West Virginia has the lowest workforce participation rate for women.

“Without supporting more women getting into the workforce, our economy will not thrive. Many families depend on women for economic mobility,” Goodwin said.

The efforts and donations of this drive are making a lasting impact.

“This type of event is always going to be necessary. The nonprofits we worked with were so excited to receive the clothes we gave them to be able to give back to their communities,” Flight said.

Within hours of delivery after their inaugural clothing drive at the annual Girls’ Night event in August, donations given on Friday were distributed to women on Saturday, who immediately used the clothing for work.

Since August, Ready for Work drives have been happening all over the state.

Multiple charities in Huntington, Charleston and Morgantown have been a part of this effort, with another happening in Beckley in the future.

If you are interested in wage equity, removing workforce barriers or promoting equality in education, contact WV Forward at wvforward@mail.wvu.edu.