Just this morning Linda Gobble talked to someone who went to the Women Helping Women clothing distribution last fall.

Gobble, who helps coordinate the annual Women Helping Women project, says her caller was grateful.The caller is a single mother. Last year she was going to school, unable to support her children without financial aid.

This fall finds her working at a local hospital. So she called to say thanks for the clothes she wore to her job interview, the clothes that Women Helping Women gave her, the clothes that helped her look professional and helped her get hired.

Not that Gobble thinks clothes alone can do the trick. "Of course she had to go to school and learn the computer," Gobble says. "But it helps a person's confidence having decent and proper clothing from the shoes on up."

Gobble says Women Helping Women launches new lives. Women tell her that being given several nice outfits helped them make the transition from welfare to work force - helped them change forever.

Three years ago, Lynne Zimmerman, press secretary to Mayor Palmer DePaulis, started Women Helping Women.

Its purpose, she says, is twofold. "It helps women in need from a practical standpoint. They are hopefully getting the training they need, but they don't have clothing, except jeans. Any extra money goes to their kids."

Second, she says if people are worried about the number of women in poverty, Women Helping Women gives them an easy way to help.

Connie Cowley, program specialist for the state's self-sufficiency program, says, "More than 95 percent of Utah's 15,000 families on assistance are headed by single mothers.

"There is no way to buy work clothes on a welfare grant."

Zimmerman wants women to think about education and job experience as prevention against poverty. "A large number of women are a lot closer to being in this situation than they'd like to think about."

The first year it was mainly city employees who headed up the clothing drive and washed, sorted and tagged. They distributed clothes to about 300 women. Last year the project grew, and it's growing again. More than 1,000 women will show up this year. Zimmerman is worried about having enough clothes.

Right now, two hundred volunteers are collecting new and used clothes, cleaning them, and putting them on racks. Dozens of women's clubs and professional organizations such as women lawyers and real estate agents, are helping, too. On distribution day, later this month, 80 volunteers will staff the center. They'll provide child care, distribute snacks, help women find sizes. If women want help, the volunteers will assist them in putting together an ensemble.

Rita Inoway, director of volunteers at the Community Services Center, says her agency is, along with the Mayor's office, co-sponsoring the project. "We are hoping to give every woman two or three outfits." Because they were short on larger sizes last year, this year volunteers got donations from the owners of queen-size dress shops and the clients of weight-loss clinics.

Inoway says the project has widespread support. Pyke Manufacturing donates clothes and space to hold the event. This year Northwest Textiles has given storage space and owner Phil McMullin promises to donate shoes and coats if the volunteers can't collect enough of those.

Several months ago the project coordinators sent out invitations to the Women's Resource Center at the University of Utah, to Westminster College, and the Salt Lake Community College, and to Social Services' self-sufficiency counselors. Zimmerman says the various agencies are giving invitations to women who need them most - women on the brink of making it on their own.


(Additional information)

Organizers seek clothing donations

Women Helping Women still needs donations. If you want to help, bring women's clothing in good condition - suitable for office wear - to Pyke Manufacturing, 1335 S. 700 West, Salt Lake, between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Friday, October 5 or 12. Accessories such as tailored jewelry, hosiery and scarves would also be welcome.