By Kathi Bliss
What started almost 20 years ago as one church’s small outreach program has become a community effort impacting hundreds of children every year.
Coats for Kids, sponsored by the First Christian Church, was introduced in 1991 as a way for church members to “show real Christian kindness,” by providing free winter coats for area youngsters in need.
“From there, it’s grown every year, to the point where we gave away 500 coats and 200 other pieces of warm clothing last year,” said event organizer Clint Mohle.
Coats for Kids focuses on the giving spirit of the Christmas season, and is scheduled each year with an eye on the forecast. Although freak weather occurrences do happen, Mohle said the aim each year is to gather and distribute coats before the first extended cold snap of the year, in order to make sure that, “the kids don’t have to walk around without a coat for any longer than absolutely necessary.”
Beginning each September, Mohle and an army of volunteers from the First Christian Church begin the process of collecting donations, shopping for winter coats and networking to find the children who need them the most.
“We always keep our eyes open for discount and closeout sales,” Mohle said. “My daughter called me, a few weeks ago, and told me about [a retailer] who was having a sale, 40 – 60 percent off, on coats. If you consider how much a good winter coat really costs… we need all the help we can get, and will take every bargain we can find.”
Gearing up for the distribution event on Dec. 19, Mohle said local youngsters’ need for warm coats this year exceeds anything he’s seen in years past.
“What we’ve tried to do is communicate with the schools, so they can help us find the children that are really coming to school on cold days in shirtsleeves, or maybe just a windbreaker,” he said. “The teachers, the principals, those are the people that know these children, know if they have a coat, and know if they need one.”
As of last week, he said, the list of students submitted by the school numbered more than 300.
“Of course, we’re going to do everything we can for everyone that comes out that day,” he said. “And as much as we’d like to promise that we can provide a coat for everyone, we just can’t do that.”
Mohle does, however, promise that every woman and child in the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Shelter who needs a warm coat for winter will have one.
“For several years, one of the women in our church has volunteered there, and those women and children at the shelter… They get the first pick,” Mohle said. “If they’re in that shelter, they’re there for a reason, and if this is the help they need, if they need a coat, then we’ll make sure they have them.”
Although some of the coats distributed by Coats for Kids are second-hand and gently used, Mohle said, the goal of the program is to distribute new coats.
“We’re certainly not going to turn down donations, if someone has a coat their child outgrew or something like that,” he said. “But we stopped putting out donation barrels, because much of what we found there was that people would donate coats that were worn out, torn, or stained. We also had people that threw trash in the barrels, and the coats got stained or damaged by that.”
Mostly, he said, Coats for Kids relies on the financial donations of business and individual supporters in the community.
“Every donation goes back into the program,” he said. “We might use a little bit of those funds to buy thank you cards, or pay for postage for our donation letters or thank you cards, but almost every cent we receive, we use to buy coats.”
Coats for Kids is still accepting both donations and volunteers. The annual coat distribution will be held at First Christian Church, on the corner of San Antonio and Church Streets, on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010, beginning at 1 p.m. and ending either at 4 p.m., or when the last coat has been given away.
For information or to make a donation, contact Mohle at (512) 376-1547.