In 2019, Felician University commissioned a study to determine unmet needs of their students. The findings were shocking. A significant number of students reported being food and housing insecure. Students were investing in a college education for a better future, and in doing so, were giving up daily meals or a place to sleep.
As director of the Blessed Mary Angela Institute for Contemplation, Action and Transformation at the time, Sister Annelle Velivis knew she had to help. The reality that college students worried about where their next meal was coming from or where they would sleep on that night led to another question; how could they interview for a job without the means to afford professional clothes?
Sr. Annelle turned to Mike Omansky from the Felician University School of Business and Information Science. He worked with his students to create business plans to launch an on-campus store offering professional clothing and accessories to students – they called it: Suits U.
“It was important to maintain the dignity of the students who were in need, so we chose the business plan in which students could perform community service hours in exchange for clothing,” Sr. Annelle explained. Students choose to volunteer at local hospitals, churches and urban ministries. “It gave the students an opportunity to earn the clothing and to help others in the process.”
Daquan Pullum, a graduate assistant at the time, was brought on as the first manager. “Daquan went to work with bags of donated clothing to create a boutique-like store,” Sr. Annelle recalled. “He put so much thought into the dressing rooms, mannequins and organizing items so perfectly. He gave the student shoppers style ideas to instill them with confidence.”
To minimize expenses, students volunteer and inventory is donated from the community university staff. “Ridgewood Moving Services, a local company, partnered with us immediately,” Sr. Annelle said. “They told me that it’s amazing how much people leave behind when they move.”
One student proudly shared with Sr. Annelle, “Will you take a look at me? This is the first suit I’ve ever had, and I never knew how to tie a tie, but Professor Mike helped me.”
Since it opened, Suits U has helped hundreds of students dress for the successful careers ahead of them despite their lack of funds. The university will also soon open a food pantry to address the issue of food insecurity.
Sr. Annelle said, “Mother Angela’s life was all about service to the poor. We found that the poor can be disguised in the form of a college student, and we will continue to find ways to serve them.”
Felician University is a ministry of the Felician Sisters of North America (FSNA) located in Lodi, New Jersey. Learn more at www.felician.edu.