NEW YORK CITY (PIX11) — Since 1999, Bottomless Closet has given professional clothing, career workshops and materials to women in need who are looking for work. Executive Director Melissa Norden said during the pandemic, nearly 70% of their clients, who are mostly women of color with children at home, were laid off.
“March 2020 was the busiest time they ever had for clients but then the world shut down. We also just made hundreds of phone calls. Most of our clients are living alone in homeless shelters with a couple little kids and they have no one else in the world,” said Norden.
In response to their clients’ needs, Bottomless Closet staff revamped its in-person career coaching services to help thousands of women by doing one-on-one video calls and online group workshops on topics like food insecurity, money management and how to apply for jobs online.
“It wasn’t just about the job anymore, it was about everything else in your life and it really wasn’t off mission though because if you’re dealing with other issues, how could you possibly look for a job? So, we’ve evolved with them and the curriculum has evolved with them as well. We’ve started to address things like mental health and physical health issues because, again, they are barriers to employment,” said Norden.
Longtime client Ursel Pedroso said their professional development and digital literacy courses are perfect for her as she considers remote employment opportunities.
“A lot of us need a little help to get back on our feet and it’s just nice to know we have an organization here to do that. There’s just so many things that Bottomless Closet offers to women and I’m grateful that they are able to still do that through remote webinars,” said Pedroso.
The organization’s boutique that outfits women with business attire is open, but Norden said the referrals for in-store shoppers are not pouring in. They usually get clients from hundreds of agencies in the five boroughs that are job developers.
“In NYC when you are getting public assistance you have to register with a job developer. Right now that requirement is suspended. It has been suspended for the duration of the pandemic so there isn’t a natural pipeline,” said Norden.
She believes this is partially due to barriers to employment for clients such as no viable child care options, fear of returning to essential working jobs due to violence and other factors. Until things pick back up, Norden said Bottomless Closet will continue to find out the needs of their clients and fulfill them.