Free fixups: Businesses donate by way of new outfits and straight teeth

Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal

In a marketing campaign inspired in part by reality television’s “Extreme Makeover,” in which a team of plastic surgeons and beauty consultants collaborate to smooth out someone’s less appealing physical features, San Jose dentist Martin Hatzke is promising to help someone smile.

He wants to provide free dental work to someone in need — a person without dental insurance or means to pay for it, for example — in conjunction with a beauty consultant and hairdresser who will step in to complete the makeover. He plans to target their customer databases and provide the makeover this fall. And, if the public service campaign proves successful, he says he will provide this free service three or four times a year.

Dr. Hatzke has done some pro bono work, but it isn’t his habit. Business is slower than usual, he says, and many of his patients are unemployed. So he decided to donate his expertise in slow times rather than wait for the economy to pick up.

The offering falls mostly under the heading of public relations, but he also calls it “patient education.”

Boosting one’s confidence is ever important, especially in tough times. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the federal welfare-to-work law, the goal of which is to help people on welfare programs get back in the work force, with a little help from government agencies and other services. It was a makeover program of sorts — a few small businesses and individuals have quietly helped provide the extra services such as providing work clothes, grooming services and self-help programs.

“I’ve got about 7,700 active client cases in the program right now,” says Alette Lundeberg, manager for CalWORKs, a welfare program that gives cash aid and services to eligible California families, including those in the welfare-to-work program.

“Eighty percent of them could use something,” Ms. Lundeberg says. “But how many people on welfare are going to spend money getting a haircut when they could pay for food for their children or bus fare to get to work?”

She says there are professionals in the community who are generous, but CalWORKs has little time to solicit help. Her caseload has grown 25 percent since last year, she says.

And beyond new clothes, there is a great need for personal makeover services — especially to help people feel confident enough to get back on their feet, adds Mary Boughton, executive director of Career Closet. The nonprofit professional clothing agency for women has locations in San Jose and San Mateo.

“I’ve had clients that won’t talk with you without their hand over their mouth,” Ms. Boughton says, referring to Career Closet clients.

She refers some clients to county- and state-funded programs that offer free dental care or tattoo removal through the CalWORKs welfare-to-work program. But service professionals who step forward to do the makeover work are not that common, she says. At times, Ms. Boughton would ask her own hairdresser to help out.

“I’m pretty happy to help them,” says the hairdresser, Jenie Srisavathay, of Hair Conspiracy in San Jose. “If they can find a job, that’s great.”

Makeover recipients couldn’t be happier. Rose Yu’s job training through Goodwill Industries helped her get back to work after many years as a homemaker. But she says it was an appointment with a professional fashion consultant during Mervyn’s annual clothing giveaway that gave her the boost, “ready to go into a new world.”

Last year the 49-year-old benefited from Mervyn’s Community Closet program, a “department store on wheels” created in 1998 that the Hayward-based retailer rolls into different cities nationwide. More than 1,000 men and women get a free work wardrobe aboard the 72-foot big rig, which has been retrofitted with hardwood floors, dressing rooms, mirrors, seats — even skylights over racks of new professional attire. A fashion designer helped Ms. Yu mix and match accessories with a new pants and skirt set.

This year, however, Mervyn’s is redirecting its work-wardrobe funds toward helping underserved children get new school clothes. In December, the store will be giving out sweaters and jackets, says Mervyn’s spokeswoman Anne-Marie Reid. Still, the retailer donates 5 percent of its pre-tax profits to charities, says Bernard Boudreaux, senior manager for Minneapolis-based Target Corp., which owns Mervyn’s.

In August, the company said it had second quarter sales of $821 million, a 7.3 percent decrease compared to last year’s second quarter. Comparable-store sales during the quarter dropped 7.9 percent this year compared to last.

It’s uncertain if the retailer will return to outfitting adults in need via the roving Community Closet.

“That program was meant to fill a specific need,” says Mr. Bourdreaux. “As the years have gone by it keeps morphing into different things. We have a lot of proposals on the table.”

While he says there are plenty of businesses and organizations that have “huge programs” to help people get back to work, it’s the small donations that make a big difference, say nonprofit directors.

With so many people out of work and corporate donations decreasing, this is an opportune time for volunteer work, says Career Closet’s Ms. Boughton. “You can really make a difference by giving time.”

Some, like Dr. Hatzke, hope his good deed will make a difference in someone’s life, “maybe somebody who’s not able to smile and feel comfortable and it’s holding them back.”

JENNIFER PITTMAN is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz.

This article is published here.


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