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What happens to unclaimed items at the dry cleaner? Here's an inspiring solution

Dry cleaners take 800,000 items a year and with an average of 15 percent going unclaimed, that leaves 12,000 items for donations.
/ Source: TODAY

We all know how crucial first impressions can be when it comes to searching for a job, and that definitely includes looking your best at the interview.

But recovering addicts hoping for a second chance are often at a disadvantage, since many lost everything to addiction. That's where The Dry/Clean Initiative comes in.

Recovering addict Debbie sorts through unclaimed clothing from a dry cleaner ahead of her job interview.Courtesy of Leo Burnett London / Leo Burnett London

Action on Addiction, a U.K.-based substance-addiction organization, teamed up with ad agency Leo Burnett London in January to provide recovering addicts with unclaimed clothing left at the dry cleaners to wear on job interviews.

"Getting over addiction is one thing, but actually getting back into society is hard, if not harder, because there are all these stereotypes about you," Laura Clark, art director at Leo Burnett, told TODAY.

Clark got the idea to start The Dry/Clean Initiative after a friend of hers left a pair of pants at a dry cleaners for more than six months.

"It got me thinking about what happens to all the items left at the dry cleaners," Clark said. "So I started to look into how many people leave their clothing at the dry cleaners and what happens to it when they do."

Leo Burnett London

She discovered that dry cleaners take in about 80,000 items a year to clean with an average of 15 percent left unclaimed. That leaves a potential 12,000 items available for donation. Of course, not all of the pieces left are formalwear, but her research found that about two-thirds of it is.

While every dry cleaner has their own policy, they legally have to keep an item for 90 days before classifying it as unclaimed.

Action on Addiction serves over 1,000 people a year, all of whom are eligible to take part in the initiative. Once a recovering addict gives their sizes, Clark and her team set out to find the perfect outfit from one of the 39 local dry cleaners involved.

In a video promoting the initiative, we meet a recovering addict named Debbie, who was the first person The Dry/Clean Initiative helped. She talks about her struggles with substance abuse, which began when she was just 10 years old, and how it's prevented her from getting a job up until now.

"The drinks and the drugs had always come first, and that made it impossible to find work — I just need someone to give me a chance," Debbie said in the video. "Something as simple as a suit can turn someone's life around."