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First-year USU Med Student Helps Veterans Dress for Success

Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Prince Rawlings and first-year USU medical student & volunteer Zoya Mahajan standing with some of the donated suits.

By Vivian Mason

Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Prince Rawlings always wears a suit to his dialysis treatments at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and when he visits the wounded warriors' barracks right afterward. One day, more than two years ago, he stopped by to treat one of his fellow veterans to lunch. Much to his surprise, his lunch guest commented on his “good-looking suit.” So, Rawlings let him try on the suit jacket and that simple act of kindness brought tears to the man’s eyes. Later, on his ride home, Rawlings decided to get the suit cleaned and give it to the veteran. That action was his inspiration to begin collecting suits for vets, which subsequently inspired first-year Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) medical student U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Zoya Mahajan to pursue volunteering for the Suit Drive for Veterans as a project through her position as a board member for the Student National Medical Association.

“The timing was right for both of us,” Mahajan said. “He needed help with his project because his health had worsened, and he didn’t want his program to disappear. So, I was glad to step in and assist. My goal has always been to work with vulnerable populations and that’s what I’ve been doing since high school.” 

Zoya Mahajan
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Zoya Mahajan is a first year student
at USU volunteering with the Suit Drive for Veterans.
[Image credit: Courtesy of Zoya Mahajan]
Mahajan has always been called to serve her community. She has worked as an EMT and has volunteered to work with refugees. She also started a nonprofit to work with impoverished rural communities in Peru, having seen a lot of disparity while growing up in India. All of these experiences led Mahajan to want to further her commitment to volunteer work.

“I became a board member for the Student National Medical Association and came across [Rawling’s] project while setting up service opportunities,” Mahajan said. “I called him, and we talked for more than an hour. He’s a wonderful person. You laugh all the time when you talk with him. He was just so happy to hear from someone wanting to help out.”

Similarly, Rawlings said  he and Mahajan get along famously as they plan and coordinate their efforts to collect suits for vets.

“Zoya’s a beautiful person with a great attitude and an even bigger heart,” Rawlings said. 

In her capacity with the suit drive, Mahajan finds herself doing a lot of the administrative tasks, such as coordinating schedules and methods of pickup, talking to prospective donors, creating flyers, and planning events.

“We’re not just collecting suits,” Mahajan said. “We’re also collecting suit jackets and blazers, dress pants and khakis, skirts, pantsuits, shirts and blouses, shoes, sweaters, outerwear, and accessories (e.g., ties, scarves, tie clips, belts, etc.). These are for both men and women. We’re trying to reach out more to the civilian world to get word out about the drive. We have plans to visit various area food banks and shelters, as well as other food and clothes drives where there are vets in need. Honestly, it feels so good to give.”

What Rawlings and Mahajan are most excited about is a newly donated warehouse space in Clinton, MD, where they can store clothing donations on racks in a specified area. With that new space, they’ll only need to transport items by van for distribution when they attend events. 

Currently, they have around 3,000 items of clothing waiting to be dry-cleaned and stored within their new warehouse, with various local cleaners partnering with the effort to provide the necessary cleaning services.

(Left to right) ENS Anuj Kambalyal (USU medical student), Melvin Woodard, Zoya Mahajan (USU medical student & volunteer), Prince Rawlings (founder of the Suit Drive for Veterans), and a supporter stand in the Clinton, MD warehouse space.
(Left to right) ENS Anuj Kambalyal (USU medical student), Melvin Woodard, Zoya Mahajan (USU medical student & volunteer), Prince Rawlings (founder
of the Suit Drive for Veterans), and a supporter of the organization stand together in the donated Clinton, MD warehouse space. [Image credit: Courtesy of
Zoya Mahajan]

Mahajan’s excitement for the suit drive expands far beyond the initial scope of simply suits, though.

“I can’t wait to get started with distribution,” Mahajan said. “I also want to help vets who actually need assistance with figuring out what to wear and creating a winning look for an interview. In addition, I’m trying to start an initiative to connect with salons and barbers.”

Mahajan’s hope is that those salons and barbers will share in her enthusiasm for the cause and offer pro bono services for the veterans in need. 

If not, she adds, “I’ll use the monetary donations and try to do those things myself.”

For veterans transitioning out of the military and into the civilian world, something as simple as a good, clean suit can go a long way. 

“When vets look and feel their best, they have better interviews and get the jobs they apply for,” Mahajan said. “This project will benefit so many veterans by giving them a leg up in the job market.”

In just over two years, Rawlings and another friend and veteran, Melvin Woodard, have collected and donated more than 2,500 suits. Now, their hard work is bolstered by Mahajan’s efforts.

“I’m so glad Mr. Rawlings is showing me the ropes … Because I’m in the military and will be traveling all over, I’ll need to know how to set up this program if I want to start it somewhere else to help other people,” Mahajan said.