While the weather may be slowly growing cold, many hearts-and bodies-were warmed at the Kent County YMCA at 900 Centerville Road on Friday, as nearly 700 coats were collected and 500 were given away to those in need.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., people showed up to find the coat that fit them and their children best. In the first hour, at least 100 coats were distributed.
“It really helps,” said Carol Butterfield of West Warwick, who was grateful she was able to collect coats for her loved ones, including her daughter, Sarah, 4. “The economy is so bad right now and it’s a nice feeling to know that people care to offer others stuff they need. People are so generous and we’re very appreciative.”
Staff members Tricia Driscoll and Sue Shanley were overjoyed to participate in the drive, which was part of the 15th annual Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange. Driscoll, Shanley and their co-workers began gathering coats at the beginning of the month and said the YMCA is the first site in Warwick to get involved in the effort.
In October, they held a Halloween costume exchange that was well received and figured the coat exchange would be a good idea as well, especially since children quickly grow out of clothing.
They advertised the drive through their website, Facebook page and let members know they were collecting coats via word-of-mouth.
“One of the reasons most of us belong to the ‘Y’ is because of the sense of community and the idea that we are able to share with folks who may be experiencing a challenging time right now,” said Driscoll, the Membership Director. “To be a part of that give and take is really what the ‘Y’ is all about. It’s incredible.”
Shanley, the Family Director, didn’t have to be at work until noon but came in a few hours early because she wanted to help set up. She was impressed to see a father with his teenage daughter and niece give multiple garments to the cause.
The girls wanted to go to the Garden City Shopping Center but before he took them shopping he told them they needed to do something for the community.
“He sent them to clean out closets in the house and they brought in a bag full of coats,” said Shanley. “I thought, ‘This is what the YMCA truly means to the community and what it means for those of us who work for the organization.’ When employees walked in, they didn’t go straight to their desks. They went directly to help put the coats out or help people find one.”
Volunteer Robin Zukowski, who works as the Director of Human Resource at the Renaissance Hotel in Providence, said she and the hotel have been involved with the cause for five years. Zukowski, as well as a handful of other volunteers, assisted with the set up and helped people find coats.
“It’s amazing and really touches your heart,” she said. “The kids get so excited when they find coats that fit them. It’s what the holidays are all about.”
Member Kyle Ricci, 21, agreed. He said, “It’s great to give to someone less fortunate.”
In addition to coats, accessories were also donated, as boots, scarves and hats were available.
“We’re happy to pass along whatever people donated to someone who needs it,” Driscoll said. “There’s no limit. If you need coats take as many as you need. We’re really trilled folks are taking advantage of it and happy to be a vehicle that gets it done.”
Today at 4 p.m. a representative from WestBay Community Action will stop by the “Y” to pick up the remaining 200 coats to continue the giveaway at their facility. It is located at 224 Buttonwoods Ave.
“We’re happy they are partnering with us,” said Driscoll. “Whatever we have left will go to more folks who need them.”
In addition to the coat giveaway, the “Y” hosted a blood drive on Friday. They collected 14 pints, which is enough to save 42 lives.
Further, they began a giving tree program, as the staff decorated a Christmas tree with cards indicating items people in need are hoping to receive for the holiday. People can also donate to other programs they are associated with such as “Live Strong,” which supports cancer survivors.
“For us, [Friday was] truly the start of the season,” Driscoll said. “No matter what holiday you celebrate it’s all about giving back. This is the first year we are involved with the coat drive and I’m sure it will be the first of many. We’re already planning for next year. We’re the luckiest people in the world.”
Shanley added, “We love what we do.”
Buy Nothing Day is an international effort that boycotts over consumerism on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that is marked as one of the 10 busiest shopping days of the year in the U.S. and the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season.
Local activists celebrated the 15th Annual Buy Nothing Day with a winter coat exchange on the state house lawn Friday.