Alex Trebek's wardrobe is donated to formerly incarcerated men

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Alex Trebek's wardrobe is donated to formerly incarcerated men
Steven Zimbelman, left, a costumer with “Jeopardy!”, and Matthew Trebek, Alex Trebek’s son, prepare the clothes donated to the Doe Fund. After Alex Trebek died, it was decided that his clothes would be donated to formerly homeless and incarcerated men looking for a fresh start. Jeopardy! Productions Inc. via The New York Times.

by Michael Levenson

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- When he died in November, Alex Trebek left behind legions of fans who knew and adored him as the quick-witted host of “Jeopardy!” for 37 years. He also left behind 14 suits, 58 dress shirts, 300 neckties and other clothes that he wore on the show, which taped five episodes a day, twice a week.

His son, Matthew Trebek, along with the producer of “Jeopardy!,” wondered what to do with the large wardrobe. Together, they decided to donate the clothes to formerly homeless and incarcerated men looking for a fresh start.

So it was that Trebek’s “Jeopardy!” wardrobe — which also included 25 polo shirts, 14 sweaters, nine sport coats, nine pairs of dress shoes, 15 belts, two parkas and three pairs of dress slacks — arrived about two weeks ago at the Doe Fund, a New York City nonprofit that provides services, housing and job opportunities to men who have been in prison or homeless.

“The Doe Fund made perfect sense since these are guys who are going on job interviews and need second chances,” said Matthew Trebek, 30, a New York restaurateur who co-owns Lucille’s and Oso, both in Harlem. “It would be an honor to the type of work that my dad did throughout his life.”

The gift was in keeping with an appeal that Trebek had made on one of his final shows, when he asked viewers to give thanks for the blessings they had enjoyed in their lives and urged them to help “build a gentler, kinder society.” The younger Trebek said that his father, who died at age 80, had supported a range of charities, among them programs that helped people without homes in Los Angeles.

“This definitely aligned with his interests and sentiments and values,” he said. “I think he would have thought it was a great idea.”

After the clothes arrived in New York from the “Jeopardy!” dressing room in Culver City, California, Doe Fund employees went through the items — matching suits and ties and shirts — and then started giving them to men who had completed a career-training class and were preparing for mock job interviews or jobs in corporate offices.

“Once the word got out that the donation was given, people started coming to the office, whether they had completed the program or not,” said John Powell, associate director for career development and graduate services at the Doe Fund. “They were just coming to the office because they wanted to see the suits.”

The Doe Fund, which was founded in 1985, runs a variety of programs, among them one called Ready, Willing & Able, which has prepared more than 28,000 men for sobriety, a full-time job, and a permanent home. The fund offers classes on parenting, anger management, computers and drug treatment, among other areas.

Powell said that every time a man who has been in prison completes the program and gets a suit, “you see them visibly stand taller.”

“It’s a complete and total transformation,” he said.

But knowing that these suits, ties and shirts had been worn by the host of “Jeopardy!” gave the men an extra boost, he said.

“It’s not just a nice suit, it’s a nice suit coming from Alex Trebek’s family, donated from Alex Trebek,” Powell said. “Knowing it was someone they saw on television, that they heard about for years, it’s a certain degree of validation.”

Harriet Karr-McDonald, the president of the Doe Fund, said that, in her experience, many of the men in the program are extremely nervous when preparing for jobs or job interviews because they’ve never worked in the legal economy.

“But if you dress for it, you fit in, and that’s why it’s really important,” she said. “Everybody knows ‘Jeopardy!’ and everybody knows Alex Trebek, and if a very important and famous person recognizes you and your worth as a human being and you’re actually wearing their suit, that’s pretty exciting.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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