AMHERST – A cold morning. Frost on the ground, car windows sparkling. A day for hats and mittens, never mind a coat.
But what if you didn’t have a coat? Or buying a coat left you short for groceries?
“There’s a lot of gratitude,” said Colleen Dowe, chairperson of Empowering Beyond Barriers, the group behind Coats for Cumberland.
Coats are collected year-round at public health and Maggie’s Place, then distributed at the end of November and the beginning of December. No screening of recipients is done, and no questions are asked.
Collection points were set up this fall in Amherst, Advocate, Springhill, Oxford, River Hebert, Parrsboro, Pugwash and Wentworth. A ‘store’ is opened for one day in each location to distribute the collected coats. Distribution in Amherst was on Nov. 23, in the Amherst Centre Mall (the space was donated by the shopping centre).
“It’s amazing to see,” said Dowe.
The organizer said for the first 20 minutes of a distribution there are so many bodies it’s hard to move. But she said people are polite and helpful. Some people bring in their old coast to donate at the same time as they’re picking up a new garment.
Amherst saw 255 coats given, as well as snowpants, hats, mitts and scarves. Last year, almost 600 coats got new homes county-wide.
River Hebert is a new distribution site this year. The store takes place Dec. 4, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the United Church hall. Coats will also be distributed in Pugwash Dec. 5, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at North Cumberland Care Centre.
“You have to have a coat,” said Dowe.
The health educator, employed with public health, said some of the people they help wouldn’t have a coat if not for the annual event. Others can ill afford taking money from another part of their budget to pay for winter garb. She said calls from donors start coming in in September, but calls asking for a coat swell by November. They give out more adult coats than kids, but Dowe said some of that difference may be attributable to a lack of coats in kids sizes 6 to 16.
Help from community partners has increased over the years Coats for Cumberland has operated. They received their first corporate cash donation this year. And now they’re looking at selling Christmas cards and year-round cards to raise funds.
Dowe said she sees the charitable endeavor continuing for the foreseeable future.
“We certainly hope,” she said.