Warming winters for 30 years

by Samantha Hyde

Thirty years ago The Salvation Army teamed up with a beloved local meteorologist and a regional dry cleaning company to do something that had never been done before: collect enough coats to ensure that every child in Indianapolis, Ind., would be prepared for the cold winter ahead. From just a few hundred coats donated that first year, Coats for Kids has grown into the largest coat collection and distribution in the state. In the past 30 years, over 120,000 coats have been given to children.

During the month-and-a-half long collection period, NBC-affiliate station WTHR heavily promotes the coat drive, often holding collections before Indianapolis Colts football games. This year they set up a drive-through coat drop-off outside America’s largest children’s museum, which is located just down the street from The Salvation Army’s Indiana Divisional Headquarters. The Salvation Army also sets up an Online Coat Shop where cash donations are used to purchase the most needed sizes before distribution day.

Tuchman Cleaners collects and cleans gently used coats at its 24 central Indiana locations, while new coats are stored by Two Men and a Truck until distribution day. Between 5,000 and 6,000 coats are collected, cleaned, sorted, catalogued and racked in preparation for the event each year to ensure that all sizes and needs can be met. Thanks to these incredible partnerships and an army of volunteers, The Salvation Army is able to keep costs to a minimum and serve generally 3,000 children each year.

Distribution day is always exciting, with some families arriving hours early to be first in line when the doors open at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Throughout the six-hour event, families are guided by volunteer shoppers, including most of the WTHR on-air staff, as they choose from racks sorted by size and gender. Once every child has found the perfect coat, they get to choose winter gloves and warm hats to complete their ensemble. Many of the hats are made by The Salvation Army Indianapolis Women’s Auxiliary, while a local family donates 3,000 hats and 3,000 pairs of gloves annually to supplement donations.

The following day hundreds of coats are sorted and distributed to corps to use if someone comes to them for help during the winter; then a number of groups pick up coats for distribution. First in line is Indianapolis Public Schools, the largest school district in the state with an enormous student population well below the poverty line. If any child comes to school without a coat in the winter, he or she can be sent home with one. Other school systems in central Indiana also participate in this day-after distribution, as well as several social services agencies, churches and charities. Anything left at the end of the day goes into storage for use at the Women and Children’s Center or to seed the following year’s event.

This year 2,452 children were served by Coats for Kids. Thanks to strong partnerships and the generosity of central Indiana donors, this program will continue to help keep kids warm and healthy for many years to come.

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