BALTIMORE (WJZ) — In what used to be the heart of Baltimore, the sidewalk outside an old department store is packed.
Dressed mostly in gray and black, more than 100 men shift their feet and wait for better times.
Oscar, 63, lowers his eyes and says he was released from prison in July after doing four years. He tells WJZ’s Mike Schuh he’s finally sober and would like a suit “to look more presentable” when he visits his kids and grandkids.
Kevin, with four tears tattooed under his left eye, looks up and softly says he graduated from Phase 1 in his recovery from an addiction to heroin on Friday. It’s been three months since he last used, and he’s looking for something nice to wear to a job interview.
A man named Rock just wants something nicer to wear at his job at a funeral home.
Everyone here is waiting for the door to Sharp Dressed Man to open.
Wednesday is a special day for these men, as it’s the one day of the year they don’t need a referral from a social service agency to get inside.
Christian Schafer and his son Seth are busy sorting and sizing some of the 275 suits they will soon give away. Dozens of circular clothes racks dot the chilly sales floor. All of the suits here were donated, some are custom and originally cost thousands of dollars. Christian would know, he made them.
A custom tailor in Baltimore, a few years ago he needed to find something to do with the high end suits some of his clients wanted to dispose of. Schafer, who admits he won a battle with addiction himself, knew what to do.
Sharp Dressed Man was started in 2011 and now, as a 40C3 charity, it gives away 2,000 suits a year.
When the doors open, about 30 men at a time file in. Some sit in a waiting area filled with mismatched authentic mid-century retro furniture, others stand in a line waiting to meet with a volunteer who will take their measurements. For some, this is the first time they’ve ever been told their suit size.
Oscar, a sturdy 5-foot-10, tells Mike Schuh he nailed his guess at his size: a 40 regular.
In his white t-shirt, you can see that both of his arms are covered by sleeves of tattoos.
After Mike turned away for a moment to talk to someone else, he looked back, but didn’t see Oscar.
Then it dawned on him: Oscar is still standing right in front of him, only now he’s in a dark blue charcoal Jos. A Bank suit. The transformation he saw is exactly what Schafer said would happen.
“These men come in looking to move on to a new and better chapter of their lives,” he said. “By simply putting on a nice suit, they look different, more importantly, they feel differently about themselves. It’s this confidence that helps them to get a job, to be a better person.”
Oscar looks down at the suit he’s wearing and agrees.
“It is a good day,” he said. “It’s a good day to be alive, I’m starting to feel better about myself. I’m looking out a completely different window today and you know, it’s a lot better than I’ve seen for years.”
Nearby, Kevin looks in the mirror, smiles and reflects on what he looked like when he came in.
“This is what I need to start wearing… dress clothes more, instead of dressing like a hood, I’m out the hood,” he said.
Schafer has seen this countless times, but deflects responsibility, instead saying how much all of his volunteers do.
When told he’s helped change lives, he shrugs.
“They’ve changed mine,” he said. “This is a two-way street. When you give, you receive… it feels amazing to help other people… and I like that.”
As Oscar is leaving, his ‘new’ suit over his arm, he just shakes his head and says: “This is a blessing.”