By Callie Hietala
The 26th annual Coats for Kids project, which provides new and gently used coats to area children, is accepting donations through November 30.
Program organizer and Horsepasture District Supervisor Debra Parsons Buchanan estimates the drive receives between 500 to 1,000 coats each year.
Buchanan said she started the program in 1996 because she saw a need in the community.
A child cannot help the fact that their parent or caregiver may be out of work or struggling to make ends meet, “all they know is that they are cold,” she said, adding that some children encounter issues with bullying at school because of their clothing. “We want to see children grow, not feel bullied or intimidated or embarrassed because they don’t have the proper clothing.”
Buchanan initially operated the drive from her home, purchasing new coats herself (which, she said, she continues to do) and cleaning donated used coats at a local laundromat. The number of donations quickly outgrew what she could handle at home.
Over the years, several organizations have helped with the drive, including King’s Grant and several churches – whether collecting coats or raising funds to buy new coats to contribute.
One Hour Martinizing joined in the effort and dry-cleans donated coats free of charge each year. Once ready for distribution, the coats are transported to the county school board office and then to schools and students.
Monica Hatchett, director of communications for the county school division, has been instrumental in organizing the effort on the schools’ side, even going to Walmart on her days off to get new coats for the drive, said Superintendent Sandy Strayer.
Hatchett recalled that when Buchanan initially asked to partner with the schools, a grant from the Walmart Foundation was sought to help buy new coats and shoes for students in need. This year, the foundation gave the program $2,000.
She said that, when shopping, volunteers try to keep current styles in mind, purchasing a variety of hoodies and pullovers as well as more traditional coats.
Hatchett works with counselors at each school to help identify children who are in need. She then sorts the coats by style, color, and size and delivers bundles of the clothing items to schools. At least 500 coats are given to students each year, she added.
Buchanan said donated coats that may not be appropriate for children are given to the Salvation Army to distribute to others in need.
Hatchett added that the schools work with organizations such as Rotary and Ruritan clubs to redistribute extra coats.
Anyone who would like to donate a new or gently used coat to the drive may call Buchanan at (276) 358-1463. Donations can be dropped off at Hollywood Cinema, the Salvation Army, or One Hour Martinizing on Rives Road in Martinsville.