Rebuilding Lives with New Clothes

April 27, 2011 is a date few will forget. Tornadoes ravaged much of Alabama, including EF-4 and EF-5 twisters that demolished huge swaths of the cities of Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Cullman and dozens of others communities. In fact all combined, the April 2011 tornadoes were one of the top ten natural disasters in American history.


In the midst of such heartbreak and destruction arose thousands of examples of human resiliency and unselfish generosity. One of the most significant symbolically, emotionally and financially was provided by New York apparel manufacturer Alfred Dunner and the efforts of Dressing Up! Tuscaloosa. In total, Alfred Dunner donated 32,000 new women’s garments valued at over $1 million. Delivered in a 53 foot trailer from New Jersey five weeks after the storm, the garments would have filled racks a mile long if hung side by side.


Uncertain of the best way to distribute the merchandise, Alfred Dunner VP David Aresty turned to The Grodner Group to decide the best way to handle the distribution. GG recommended that we turn the clothing donation into an unforgettable positive experience for tornado survivors, giving the generous donation the recogintion it deserved. This program, as envisioned by The Grodner Group, became Dressing Up! Tuscaloosa.


Hundreds of volunteers came together to unpack, sort and display merchandise, creating an impromptu boutique, located in the heart of the affected community in Tuscaloosa. Over a week’s time, women travelled from throughout the region to fulfill one of the three most fundamental needs — food, clothing and shelter — and receive new garments for church, work and daily life.


As word spread prior to and during the event, other generous donors were secured or came forward to offer ancillary goods and services:


  • books for all ages;
  • makeup and hair cuts for women;
  • Toiletries and medical supplies for personal needs of the entire family;
  • baby supplies, handmade quilts and toys for children attending with their mothers and grandmothers;
  • and massages for every “customer” as they awaited their turn to select garments with personal shoppers.


University of Alabama basketball coach Anthony Grant also provided new men’s apparel that had been donated to his foundation by Nike and various colleges and universities.


A similar event followed in Birmingham several weeks later. In total, almost 3,000 women statewide received the beginning of a new wardrobe, leaving Dressing Up! events with 8-10 separates each. In total, products and services in excess of $1.5 million were provided to affected individuals in the community. More importantly, they left with their self esteem enhanced and their faith in humanity renewed.


Seeing the truly meaningful impact this program had on recipients, plans are now underway for similar ongoing efforts through the Dressing Up! America initiative. This effort will address a previously unmet neet by offering clean, new clothing to women, men and children who have a document need for assistance following a natural disaster.