After five years living on the streets and addicted to drugs, Tina Williams says she is planning to go back to college and hopes to find a job in community service.
One program that has helped her begin a new life is the Capitol PurSuit Drive, an annual one-day donation campaign. The effort collects professional attire from congressmen, their staff, lobbyists and federal agencies.
Through these and other donations, Williams, 46, can now wear a suit when she goes to job interviews and look her best when she finally shows up for work.
"It makes a great difference, because it lifts up your self-esteem. It helps you to feel more prepared when you're out there seeking work. And you don't feel singled out. You feel like you measure up," she told AFP.
"When you come off the street, you have nothing," explained Williams, who left homelessness almost year ago through a rehabilitation program that included four months of drug rehab. "Now, nobody looks at me and thinks I'm homeless."
American League of Lobbyists (ALL) president Dave Wenhold, who launched the drive, said he collected 5,500 items on Tuesday, bringing the campaign's six-year total to over 50,000 pieces at a value of 2.1 million dollars. The clothing reached needy recipients later that evening, he said.
Congressional staffers lined up with suitcases and paper bags filled to the brim with suits, purses, shoes, ties and jewelry.
In a city of suits, donors from powerful lobbying firms and congressmen in Washington alike did not hold back, letting go of far better fare than your average thrift store.
The items included designer labels the likes of Armani, Gucci and Chanel.
"When you give somebody a suit, it gives them a second chance, it gives them a hope. And in these tough economic times we are facing right now, it's the best gift you can give," Wenhold told a news conference.
"If we can help one person get a job, just one person, then our time here in Washington was valuable."
The lack of proper attire for job interviews and work often hampers the efforts of poor adults and youths at risk of violence or drug and alcohol abuse to join the workforce, he said.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress and third in line to the presidency, has also lent her support to the effort.
"In these tough economic times, this example of generosity and opportunity by opening up your closets makes a difference," said Pelosi, who has encouraged her staffers and other members of Congress to make donations to the clothing drive.
Volunteers sifting through the clothes were ecstatic.
"There is really nice clothing coming in and we should be honored to get these," said Renee Nwigwe, who joined a rehabilitation program in March after five years of homelessness.
"Dressing well will build your esteem up. And knowing you can accomplish things, it's a great experience, it really is."
The donated suits are distributed to local organizations that provide career support to the poor and the disadvantaged.
One such beneficiary is New Endeavors by Women, a group that helps women like Williams and Nwigwe start anew after being homeless.
The donation campaign will help people coming off the streets "by making them first of all feel good about themselves, to know that they can go to a job interview or to a job training program with confidence," Endeavors executive director Wanda Steptoe said.
"Especially as women, when you look good, you feel good and that will help to boost your confidence and perform even better as you go out to pursue your dreams," she added.