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Elain Ellerbe | July 17, 2017
Since 2004, Men’s Wearhouse, the national men’s clothing chain, has held their National Suit Drive all across the United States. As their website states, the program is to “assist at-risk men and women who want to join the workforce.” In many states, the men and women who directly benefit from these donations are individuals released from prison and going home.
In Louisiana, this is the population who receives over 3,000 suits of clothing that are donated each year, and this effort got its start all because of a man who not only liked to shop at Men’s Wearhouse, but also had a passion for helping individuals impacted by the criminal justice system.
That man was my late husband, Michael Ellerbe, who was also the first Director of Pre-Release and Reentry for the Louisiana Department of Corrections. During the inaugural year of the Suit Drive, Michael saw the poster promoting the effort and started a conversation with the manager of the store. As it turned out, the Louisiana stores had not yet identified a non-profit partner, nor were they clear as to whom the clothing would ultimately be donated. Being the innovative soul that he was, Michael immediately jumped on the opportunity to offer our family’s nonprofit organization as a partner and convinced the Department of Corrections to distribute the suits throughout the state at prisons, and probation and parole offices. And as they say, the rest is history.
Since joining Right on Crime as the Louisiana State Director, I have stepped away from the non-profit we founded 25 years ago and am now President-Emeritus. However, because of Michael’s efforts all those years ago, Refined By Fire Ministries is still partnering with the Department of Corrections to participate in the National Suit Drive. Michael passed away four years ago, and to honor his memory, the Department of Corrections renamed the Louisiana suit drive to the “Michael Ellerbe Legacy Suit Drive.”
I’ve seen firsthand lives that were transformed from just the simple act of receiving a suit of clothing. You can be a part of giving individuals a hand up, instead of a hand out. As Michael always said, “we want people to move from being a tax burden to a taxpayer.” The professional wear you give could be the catalyst for that to happen.