We’ve always known Fort Wayne is a city of big hearts, especially when it comes to donating money, time or items, and this is proven once again during the annual Coats for Kids campaign, which will run Nov. 14 through Dec. 8
This program began 15 years ago through the Fort Wayne Volunteer Center (an RSVP affiliate) partnering with Peerless Cleaners and Kroger’s / Scott’s in a community effort. The two grocery stores serve as collection points for the coats and Peerless Cleaners donates the cleaning of all used coats collected.
According to Ani Etter, program manager of Volunteer Center, the program has delivered more than 45,000 winter coats to local low-income children in Allen County from 2000 through today. Schools and social service agencies depend on this program and have already contacted them about them about the 2014 collection.
Executive Director Jean Joley, who is credited with starting the effort, recalls how it all began in 15 years ago.
“To make a long story short, we discovered that some school kids were not wearing winter coats on blustery days,” said Joley. “They said they didn’t own winter outer wear, and this caused great concern among the teachers. We gathered coats, hats and mittens from various sources to give to the school to distribute to the kids.
“We proposed a coat collection with partners Scott’s Foods and Peerless Cleaners and 2,000 coats were collected,” said Joley.
“The best part of Coats for Kids is distribution day. When you hear firsthand from a teacher or school case manager how thrilled they are to receive the coats because they have a room of little kids back at the school waiting for a warm coat and a pair of winter gloves, it touches your heart and makes you realize how fortunate you are. The generosity of our community is endless…from families that go to the store with their own children and buy coats for less fortunate kids and share with their own children a life lesson about compassion; to businesses that collect, buy and donate coats; to the community volunteers who spend so many hours collecting and sorting coats. It makes you thankful to be part of such a great community effort.”
Each school or social service agency submits a request form listing the coat needs by size and gender.
For used coats, collection boxes are set up at Kroger, Scott’s Foods and Peerless locations. Volunteers transport donations to Peerless for cleaning, and then Peerless delivers clean coats to the sorting location. For new coats, donations and financial contributions are received in the Volunteer Center Office (www.volunteerfortwayne.org; (260) 424-3505)
Coats are delivered by Fort Wayne Fire Department prior to holiday school vacation and excess coats are distributed to the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission and Wayne Township Trustee. All non-usable coats are given to St. Vincent De Paul or Goodwill Industries for use as scrap material.
Greta McKinney, executive director of Martin Luther King Montessori School, has been a RSVP Volunteer since college. After getting her undergrad degree, she was asked to come back as a board member.
The annual Coats for Kids campaign will run Nov. 14 through Dec. 8. Collection boxes for used coats are set up at Kroger, Scott’s Foods and Peerless Cleaner locations throughout the area. For more information, go to www.volunteerfortwayne.org.
“Giving those skills to be successful not only in school but in life means a lot,” said McKinney. “We get hats, gloves and scarves knitted free of cost by various agencies that donate them to us to pass out with the coats.”
According to Peerless Cleaners’ President/Owner, Steve Grashoff, his greatest joy is seeing the look on the kids’ faces when they receive a coat, gloves and hat.
“Knowing they have a coat to keep themselves warm for the winter is a blessing. The need for coats is far greater than the supply. We are so very happy to be able to be partnering for this event every year,” said Grashoff.
Finally, said Etter, “We received a thank-you card from a group of children at a local elementary school. They had drawn stick figures on the thank you card and named the volunteers ‘The Coat Fairies.’ It was enough to melt your heart.”