Many of us look for volunteer opportunities around the holidays, but many local nonprofits seek volunteers and donations far past the holiday season. Hamilton County Kids Coats was started in 2004 by three women who attended Carmel United Methodist Church. Their mission is to provide Hamilton County residents in need with winter coats and cold-weather clothing.
“During that first year we only collected at our church, and from that experience we quickly realized we needed to involve more people,” says Linda Withrow, executive director. “We knew it was a 50-mile round trip all the way around Hamilton County, so we wanted to branch out into other areas besides Carmel.”
Kids Coats now partners with six local churches in Carmel, Fishers, Sheridan, Arcadia, Noblesville and Westfield, which act as distribution centers for the coats they receive. Each church sponsors a giveaway day during the end of October and beginning of November. Some sites allow for in-person shopping, and some are designated for pickup only. The organization accepts new and gently used hats, gloves, mittens, boots and coats, for adults and children from schools, churches, libraries, businesses and neighborhood communities throughout Hamilton County.
“The idea is to meet those in need right where they live,” Withrow says. “It can be hard for families living paycheck to paycheck to live in a county where the cost of living is the highest. These churches have opened their doors to help those in need. That’s significant.”
She says parents often sacrifice their need of coats and winter apparel so their children can have what they need. That’s why Hamilton County Kids Coats services the whole family. Withrow says they give out many adult-sized coats to parents each year.
Merciful H.E.L.P. Center in Carmel also serves as a distribution center on specific dates throughout November, December and January. Recipients make appointments for each location online or by calling Hamilton County Kids Coats. This allows the organization to control the flow of demand and ensure specific sizes are available.
“When families make an appointment, they can pick the location and time that fits their schedule,” Withrow says. “In addition, they tell us the sizes and preferred colors for the coats they are ordering. For in-person shopping sites, this helps the family guides lead the family to the right coats. For pickup sites, this helps the shoppers find the right coat to fill the family’s order.”
While Withrow says the organization is grateful for the fall volunteers, she still needs volunteers well into January and February. It takes about 900 volunteers each winter season to ensure Hamilton County residents in need are outfitted for the cold weather.
“The big collection push happens from August to October because we give out the majority of coats at the end of October and the beginning of November,” Withrow says. “However, because the Merciful H.E.L.P. Center will still need a supply of coats until the end of January, we will serve anyone in Hamilton County that needs a coat until spring. They just need to call us at 317-324-8818.”
Withrow wants to extend her gratitude to longtime partners Carmel United Methodist Church, Green Valley Church of Christ, St. Louis de Montfort Catholic Church, Arcadia Brethren Church, Sheridan First United Methodist Church, Epiphany Lutheran Church, Merciful H.E.L.P. Center, and Good Samaritan Network. She says without these partnerships, Kids Coats would not be successful.
“They have gifted us with their time, facilities and communities,” Withrow says. “We’re able to help so many Hamilton County residents because each of these groups or churches has provided their time, energy and talent.”
The Kids Coats team also accepts cash donations. Each year they host RibFest, and this year’s event raised more than $18,000 while Kids Coats received more than 300 coats for families in need.
Withrow says Kids Coats leaders work within the school systems in each area they serve. She’s looking for someone within the Hamilton Southeastern school system to assist in donation drives.
“We’re looking for volunteers within Fishers or HSE schools to assist us,” Withrow says. “If we had donation drives at each school, we would be able to receive more coats and also, in turn, help more people.”
Withrow says Kids Coats provided winter clothing this year to more than 600 families by mid-October. She says the number is significant because it indicates the need is present. Coats not accepted by the organization are given to other local charities for distribution.
For more information on volunteering or to make an appointment, visit kidscoats.org.
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