For the past 11 years, hundreds of individuals along with businesses, schools and community resource centers have teamed up with Robert Lohn to collect and distribute coats to those who need one during the winter months.
Lohn started the Coats for the Cold program after he spotted a rack of kids’ coats on sale following the Christmas holiday in 2007 and before he knew it, he had spent $260 and the kernel of an idea began to grow.
“The wheels started turning on my way home,” Lohn said Wednesday. “I started thinking I could get schools involved and do a fundraiser and any money the students raised could be matched with a local business. The kids could then use the money they raised to buy coats and give them to who they want.”
Since Lohn began the program, he estimates they have collected and distributed more than 20,000 coats and he makes it a point to thank the volunteers and businesses who step up each year.
“Pierson’s Building was an original sponsor and if those guys had said no I don’t think I would have kept going,” Lohn said. “Mission Linen launders all the gently used clothing that is donated and there are about 75 drop-off centers including grocery stores and fitness centers in the county and the campaign usually kicks off after Christmas, but this year we started mid-December. I have already distributed about 1,500 hoodies, sweatshirts and coats.”
There are drop-off locations from Garberville to McKinleyville and Lohn emphasizes that every piece of clothing collected stays in Humboldt County. When he has coats left over after the final distribution of the year in February, he keeps those coats for Christmas when they will be donated to Toys For Tots and Toys For Kids.
Numerous organizations benefit from the coat drive including Northcoast Children’s Services/Head Start, the Redway Family Resource Center and St. Vincent de Paul outreach to the North Coast Veterans Resource Center, Redwood Community Action Agency, Humboldt Domestic Violence Services and others.
For the students at Arcata Elementary, the Coats for the Cold program is part of their education and according to Brian Lovell, director of extended student services, it’s one of the most important lessons they learn.
“It’s one of our best service projects and they get how it works and they’re very motivated to put it together,” Lovell said. “The mechanisms of the drive are things a 10-year-old can do, loading the bags and loading them into a car to deliver them to Robert. Those are all things they can be engaged in.”
The lessons learned include the logistics of conducting the drive — the collecting, sorting, and delivering — but Lovell said there are other lessons learned as well.
“The reward they get is intrinsic,” he said. “It’s been a big part of our service program for the past eight years or so and not only do we collect a lot of coats, we are then, in turn, able to get coats back for the families in our school in need. It’s a win-win for everybody and the kids are learning to do a service for others without expectation of reward and the kids in need get a warm coat.”
It’s not just children who benefit from the annual coat drive.
“It’s been phenomenally important since Robert started the program,” said Bryan Hall, executive director of the Eureka Rescue Mission. “Many of the people who come to us have clothes but there are others who come in with nothing and we get them warm clothes. It’s always nice to have a jacket in this weather and it’s absolutely sometimes more blessed to give than it is to receive.”
Find out more information about the annual Coats for the Cold drive by visiting the website coatsforthecold.org.
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.