By Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Dave Bezaire.
Amidst the warmth of family and friends, the excitement of giving and receiving gifts, and the long-awaited break from your adult responsibilities, it’s sometimes difficult to remember the less fortunate over the holidays. But step outside for five minutes for a taste of borderline apocalyptic slush storms in New York City, temperatures dipping to nearly thirty below across the Midwest as Arctic air blasts through, or Winter Storm Atlas burying the great plains underneath feet of snow, and you’ll recall how deadly these months can be – especially if you don’t have a coat.
We get it, this time of year is busy, and you really don’t have time to research coat drives and figure out how to donate. Well, never fear, we’ve done all the leg work for you — all you have to do is follow the links, get to a donation point and give, give, give.
One Warm Coat is a national organization that distributes donated coats back into the communities they come from. In the event there’s no coat drive in your zip, they provide free information and guidance on easily organizing one. Virtually every community across the US can be reached, so long as one person is willing to take the time. You can follow this link and click on where you live for a list of existing coat drives, or, if you don’t see one near you, follow this link to get information on building one.
President and CEO of One Warm Coat Jennifer Stockard sat down with BTR to tell us exactly who your charity will help.
BreakThru Radio: How did One Warm Coat (OWC) get started?
Jennifer Stockard: So I’ve been working with OWC for almost three years now, and I have been in nonprofits for about 25 years now, which is about the time OWC started. It was founded by a lovely woman in San Francisco who actually had one warm coat. She wanted it to be given to somebody, not sold in a thrift store. She wanted it to go to somebody in need. So she got a couple of friends together and for ten years it kind of progressed and grew to a group of individuals and an annual event. Then in 2002, Sherri Lewis Wood decided that there could be more, so she and others worked together to make it a national organization.
BTR: How do you guys help?
JS: We are a national company that matches agencies in need with coat drive organizers via our website, and then we included the ability for everyone across the country to participate. If you have a coat in your closet, you can go to our website and click on the map locator and click on your location to find a coat drive near you, and you can support those coat drives in your community. It’s really easy for everyone to get involved – we provided free packets of info and resources and kits to help support the coat drive for people that want to organize. For those people that are looking to donate an individual coat it’s really easy to find somebody close by you. Coat drives start and stop every day, so even if there’s not somebody close by today, there still might be one tomorrow.
Or we say, hey, if no one is collecting coats in your zip code, maybe you might want to think about being the person who holds the coat drive and helps out your community.
BTR: How does OWC differ from other coat drives?
JS: Apart from our resources for organizers, as a national organization, coats that are collected stay in the community where they are collected. We don’t warehouse and then re-ship or re-distribute them, we ask people to hold a drive to benefit their own community.
BTR: Any recent success stories?
JS: Well, we look at every coat drive as a huge success because if we collect one coat together, that means we’ve helped one person. And the success comes in a different way than what you might expect. When you look at the number of people that need a coat, the number of people that it takes to organize a coat drive, and the coat donors themselves, we’re reaching over a million people a year that are participating either by giving or by receiving a coat.
So all of our coat drives are a success in that sense.
BTR: Very rewarding.
JS: Yes, and the interesting thing about those that give is that it’s a warm feeling when you give something to help another person in need. You get something, too, you get a gift. And the person who is receiving the coat, when they put their arms through, they feel the warmth of the coat but they also get something else and that’s the warmth of knowing that somebody cares.
BTR: Who do these coats go to?
JS: The need is something people don’t always understand, when you have two or three coats in your own closet. We get phone calls daily. I’ll give you some examples from last week:
A mom called and she said she has nine children, they had a fire and lost everything. They have one coat, a baby’s coat, between them all.
Another mother called and said she has two young children 7 and 8, girls, and is there any way we could help them get coats because she didn’t have any. She’s working but she can’t afford to buy them, and then at the very end of her message, in a very embarrassed and shy way, she said she didn’t have a coat either. She was embarrassed to ask for herself. She was asking for her children.
We had a school teacher in Detroit ask if there was any way we could help him get coats for forty of his kids, because when you’re a teacher they’re all your kids. Forty of the children in his class in Detroit are coming to school without a coat – they’re only warm in the classroom. And he said “can you help us?”
We got a letter from a senior center, from one of the drivers that takes the center’s elderly to their appointments asking is there any way we could get a couple of coats for our residents to share? Not even can we have a coat for everybody, but can we just have a couple and we’ll share them.
So the need crosses generations, and it goes beyond just what people would normally think, which would be the homeless. And certainly people are out there on their own and they’re cold and they need coats too, but it really goes beyond that. It could be your neighbor next door struggling, and you just don’t know what their need is. It’s really huge. So if we get one coat to one of those people, it’s not enough, but for that one person, it’s everything.
Every day is a good day to hold a coat drive and to help somebody.