By Brandy Rodtsbrooks

You could hear the thick whisk of the puffy polyester winter coat slide up his sleeves as his mom gathered the sides tighter on his shoulders and snapped the metal buttons. The coat fit perfectly, and now it was his. He beamed up at his mom. It was a moment so simple, it was easy to believe it was common in the life of a child. And yet, too many children hug their thin fall jackets and think of sunny summer weather to outwit the sting of winter winds.

As the temperatures drop and heating bills rise, families across Eugene are faced with difficult decisions. Fortunately, Eugene is a community that gives back, and with a network of organizations like the Eugene Active 20-30 Club and the Eugene Mission, donors and volunteers are coming together to warm the winter months through the Coats 4 Kids program and Warm Up Drive. The call for warm coats and clothing is going out, and the community is responding.

Coats 4 Kids, which has been helping local kids for at least 20 years, exemplifies collaboration in action: businesses put out red barrels to collect donations, donors drop off new or gently used coats, dry cleaners donate their services, and local nonprofits partner with the 20-30 Club to match up coats with the communities they serve.

For Holly Jones with the Eugene Active 20-30 Club, making sure that kids have warm winter coats is a true reflection of the organization’s core mission to improve the quality of life for local children. In the three years that Jones has worked with Coats 4 Kids, first volunteering, then stepping in to the role of committee chairwoman, she has seen the need both increase and diversify.

The program’s goal this year is 2,600 coats in sizes ranging from infant to adult 3X. It can be challenging to get the right mix of sizes to cover children through elementary school, but it’s well worth the effort.

“If a nonprofit agency puts in a request for 10 coats in XL, it’s because there are 10 kids waiting for those coats,” Jones says. “Making that kind of direct impact in a child’s life is incredible.”

That sentiment is shared at the Eugene Mission. Their Warm Up Drive, which began its second year this October, provides winter coats, socks, and boots to people who walk through their doors.

“During the winter months, some guests arrive in clothes so soaked with rain and dirt that they must be immediately thrown away,” says Caitlin Vargas, development director at the Mission.

Vargus reports, as the weather turns cold, the Mission serves as many as 1,000 people a day. During the day, hundreds of guests arrive at the Mission to take advantage of the food, showers, and fresh clothing services offered. In the winter months, these services become even more vital as people are battling the elements.

For Vargas and the donors she works with, “donating warm winter clothes is a way of giving back that feels deeply personal,” she says. “You know that your efforts are keeping someone out there warm and dry.”

The Warm Up Drive relies solely on community support, with local organizations placing barrels out for donations from October to December. When the barrels are full, they are picked up and distributed to the Mission’s many guests.

Jones and Vargas agree that it’s heartwarming to see the community so strongly support these efforts.

“It means a lot to see parents bringing their children in to donate coats for other kids and talking through what that means,” Jones said. “You hear them making the connection to neighbors or friends at school who need help. When the kids put the coats in the barrel, you can tell it means something to them. It’s that kind of connection that builds a foundation of giving for our future generations.”

As we pull winter coats on wiggling children, it’s compelling to imagine this great sense of connectedness spreading across Eugene as warm winter coats change hands and find their way to the chilled arms of a waiting child. It’s a subtle reminder that it really does take a village and, in Eugene, that kind of warmth makes this community a great place to call home.

Both organizations are still looking for businesses to host barrels and donors to give new or gently-worn coats and financial contributions.

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