Article and photos by Emily Kestel, Fearless editor
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate effect on women’s employment, Dress for Success Des Moines never stopped living out its mission to empower women to achieve economic independence by supplying them with clothing and confidence.
The nonprofit, which opened in June 2011, offers professional clothing, resume and interview assistance, and career development workshops to women entering into or returning to the workforce. Often the participants are coming from a shelter or incarceration and are referred to Dress for Success through referral partners like Children and Families of Iowa, House of Mercy or Beacon of Life.
“A lot of people, when they think about Dress for Success, they think about the clothing. We’re trying to get the community to understand that it’s more than clothes. We’re here to build confidence for these women so they can go to that interview with confidence,” Jody White, executive director of Dress for Success Des Moines, said.
According to a recent fact sheet, 70% of those served live below the poverty line, 72% are single mothers, one-third have been affected by domestic violence and one-third have served time in jail or prison.
Pre-pandemic, Dress for Success served 500 women annually. Now, they’re serving about five women per week, but are hoping to serve “more women than we can handle.”
As the pandemic roared on, White and the Dress for Success board came together and looked at how they could save money while still providing services.
Earlier this year they made the decision to move locations for several reasons.
Paying rent at their previous location at 6000 Grand Ave. no longer made sense. “During the pandemic we were leasing space and we realized how much money we were throwing away to rent,” White said.
Given that it wasn’t located close to a bus route and it was tucked behind a larger building, it wasn’t readily accessible, she added.
This past September, the nonprofit packed up its things and moved 3½ miles northwest to its new location at 7025 Hickman Road in Urbandale.
“We’re on a bus line and we’re [more] accessible to clients and donors. It’ll better serve our clients when they start returning to work,” White said.
While the organization secured a loan to get by in the interim, Dress for Success is soon launching a yearlong capital campaign with a goal of raising $285,000 to help pay off the loan and moving and renovation expenses.
The nonprofit has committed $100,000 toward that goal, but will be asking for the community’s help to get across the finish line, board member Jessica Richter said.