United Way buys $20K worth of new winter coats to address local need
By Cory Smith | on December 14, 2020
GREENVILLE — Helping to load box after box of winter coats into a U-Haul truck Friday afternoon, Renae Osmolinski couldn’t help but think of the countless children she’s observed spending too much time in the cold this winter.
“It’s amazing how many times we go out and we see kids without a coat, or even wearing shorts because they don’t have winter wear,” the United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties Board member said.
This year, Osmolinski has spotted more children without proper winter wear than in previous winter seasons, as due to the coronavirus pandemic, nonprofits, pantries and shelters can’t keep previously-worn coats in stock due to COVID-19 restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
“People can’t donate used coats because of COVID,” United Way Community Impact Program Manager Haley McLean said. “Usually when kids grow out of coats, they can be donated back, but that’s not the case this year.”
Knowing the need for winter gear, especially for children and adults in need, would still be prevalent in both counties, United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties Executive Director Terri Legg said a decision was made to spend a portion of the organization’s emergency COVID Crisis Fund.
Two weeks ago, $10,000 was used to purchase more than 800 items for families in need, but that didn’t satisfy the demand.
“We donated to four organizations a week ago … then we called a bunch more this past week,” McLean said. “We called Portland and they have no coats in their pantry. We called Lakeview and they were begging for coats. There’s definitely still a need, we just have to be more careful this year.”
As a result, an additional $20,000 was spent on winter coats Friday, purchased at discounted rates from the Greenville Meijer.
As the coats were scanned in at the register, Legg was surprised to hear $1,142 was still left to be spent after discounts were applied.
“Do you want us to scan more coats?” she was asked by an employee.
“Oh, absolutely,” she responded in excitement.
Those coats will now be sorted by size and distributed to seven area nonprofits, with the remaining coats donated to area schools.
While the cost may seem extreme, with no option to collect and distribute used coats available at this time, Legg said the purchase was crucial to ensure area children do not go without proper winter wear.
“These are like luxury items,” she said, holding up one of the jackets. “This one right here is a $60 coat. These are high-quality items. Some of the gloves we were giving away last week were $35.”
With no used coats available for donation, McLean said many families are struggling, especially for those who are currently unemployed, on whether to pay their bills or purchase new winter wear.
“With the new coats, this is just a huge thing — it’s also so expensive,” McLean added. “Even a family with one child, that’s an extra $80 they may not have, especially if they are out of work.”
In addition to having donated more than $25,000 to the organization’s COVID Crisis Fund, Legg said Meijer was able to go to extra lengths to ensure there were enough coats available to complete the $20,000 purchase.
Greenville Meijer Softlines Team Leader Brenda Houghton said she called other stores in the West Michigan market, including the Cedar Springs, Lowell and Cascade stores, and not long after asking, coats from those stores made their way to Greenville.
“We here at Meijer are all about teamwork,” she said. “It’s a big job, but this is for a good cause and I’m excited that we are helping them (United Way) to do this.”
Houghton gave credit to her team of women employees at Meijer who worked throughout the past several days to collect, box up and scan all of the coats for United Way, all while doing so in addition to their daily grocery-store tasks that have become more complicated and demanding due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“All I have to say is, my girls here, our team, they’ve been organizing everything and they’ve been awesome,” she said. “If I say something, they are on it. If I ask them, they get it done. These girls are the ‘Wonder Women’ who make it all happen.”
As the last of the coats were loaded up into the trailer, McLean said she was grateful to see so many organizations contribute to the COVID Crisis fund, directly resulting in the possibility to get new coats into the hands of children.
“I’m not sure how many coats we have at the moment, but it’s going to be a lot,” she said. “It’s a little sad when you come across some of these coats, you see how small they are and you know it’s for a child who doesn’t have one, but that’s why we do this.”