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VA Palo Alto Health Care System
Volunteer Clothes Veterans in the Best
By Nicole Kelly
Tuesday, January 19, 2016Homeless Veterans walk into a clothing closet with nothing but the clothes on their back. They leave a short while later outfitted in designer clothes from head to toe. Unlikely? Not if the clothing closet they walked into was run by Laurel Lipsick of the NextStep Veterans Resource Center on the VA Menlo Park campus. Lipsick has a passion for helping Veterans dress for success, but hers is no ordinary clothing closet.
“I have been in bins… I almost dove in with only my ankles hanging out… I had to get to the bottom! I’m going to find out what’s in there!” Lipsick said about finding the best clothing for Veterans.
For a time Lipsick jumped from project to project doing volunteer work for the VA. When she landed at NextStep she was surprised at how many Veterans didn’t have anything to wear to interviews or special occasions, like a wedding. Lipsick decided to do something about the glaring need, but just any old clothing would not suffice.
“The clothing has to be really high quality, that’s important,” said Lipsick, who received her first donations from her husband, friends from Stanford, and acquaintances in the Palo Alto area. “If a Veteran is going to come to my closet, they’re going to look awesome,” she said.
So where does this passion for dressing Veterans in the best of the best come from? Lipsick knows she has been luckier than most in life and says she does the clothing closet not for money or praise, but for the genuine gratitude that Veterans show when she is able to change their lives with a simple outfit.
“I’ve seen guys who haven’t had a new pair of shoes in three years cry. They know I only do it because I care about them,” Lipsick said.
The sizes of the Veterans she serves are, “all over the map,” Lipsick divulged. From Veterans with a 32-inch waist to Veterans who stand six foot eight inches tall whose stature is most similar to an NFL offensive lineman. She makes no promises, but tries to find something for everyone, which means spending 10 to 15 hours per week calling people and companies seeking donations. In her two hours physically at the clothing closet twice a week, she typically sees 20 to 40 Veterans.
“It’s more popular with men than women,” Lipsick elaborated. Even still, nothing stops Lipsick from helping men and women Veterans alike, especially if a Veteran is in critical need.
“In the middle of winter a woman walked two days from a shelter in San Jose. All she had [on her feet] was half of a flip-flop.” Lipsick stated. Just like she would for any other Veteran, Lipsick pulled out all the stops. “I got her a nice down winter coat, two pairs of running shoes, and a backpack to carry her new belongings,” said Lipsick.
Lipsick is assertive when it comes to finding the clothes that Veterans so desperately need. She strives to get bigger companies involved, but also looks to local mom and pop stores for deals. Local small businesses have traditionally been supportive of her efforts. Also, Lipsick says people with strong military ties tend to be the most willing to help out.
Though Lipsick has never sought money for her cause, she says that those who want to make a difference but don’t have clothing to donate could contribute monetary donations, if desired. Lipsick says that even $1,000 (which may not be much by Palo Alto standards) would do tremendous good for the clothing closet. Money contributions could enable her to outfit hundreds more Veterans and would be tax deductible for donors.
“Just remember me,” Lipsick pleaded. “When you have gently worn stuff, remember me. Most importantly, remember when you give it to me it goes directly from me to a Veteran,” she explained.
Clothing donations can be dropped off in Menlo Park at Menlo Shirt Laundry & Dry Cleaners (1115 Chestnut St.) or at NextStep (VA Menlo Park, Bldg. #348, 795 Willow Rd, Attn: Laurel Lipsick).