Sharing the warmth

Kids in Coats campaign works to keep county's children cozy this winter

BRATTLEBORO — COVID-19 made it harder, but the United Way of Windham County is doing its best to make sure that kids have access to warm winter clothing.

The United Way's ninth annual Coats for Kids Drive serves all elementary schools in Windham County. Outreach and Marketing Associate Brandie Starr helped organize this year's effort, along with Executive Director Ruben Garza and Office Manager Kara Orfanid.

“That's it. That's all there is of us,” Starr explained. “With Covid, the volunteer program has gotten challenging.”

Last year's Coats for Kids Drive raised just over $10,000, which was distributed in November.

“We are grateful for that,” Starr said. “Those funds will have a fairly limited stretch; having $15,000 to $20,000 to disburse as each school season approaches is a far more appropriate amount.”

Even though “every bit is helpful,” Starr said, donations have been declining to the Kids in Coats Drive, “and we are either going to be able to breathe new life and energy in the Kids in Coats fund, or it will very likely become unsustainable to maintain by 2022.”

She said that “talking about this makes me nervous.”

“As a parent, and a human that is part of local school and parenting communities, I know well how much this program is needed,” Starr said.

Pivoting from a pandemic

Due to the pandemic, Starr said that this year, “we tried to implement a winter gear drive as well, so that we could gather up all kinds of really good winter gear and keep it up at the village community closet, where parents and caregivers could go and grab items.”

Along with this, she said, gently used children's clothing gets to the United Way's Village Community Closet.

“Second-hand free clothing is a huge component of parenting for many of us,” Starr said. “Children growing into and out of clothing at the speed of light can be quite anxiety producing, particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck, or on fixed monthly incomes.”

Covid also meant the traditional ways this drive usually works had to be adapted. In the past, the program distributed vouchers that could be used to buy clothing from local merchants.

“We felt it was the safe and sensible thing to bring the funds directly to the supervisory unions, who could then get them to the support staff and administration in the elementary schools,” Starr explained.

New ideas for 2022

Starr has some ideas for next year's Kids in Coats Campaign.

She would like to see more collaboration among school partners, including preschools that are in the county's supervisory unions, as well as efforts to gather information from local service providers about gaps they have in their own programming. She looks forward to a continued partnership with the Village Community Closet, which provides an exchange for used clothing and other items for mothers, mothers-to-be, and their children.

Starr would also like to form other partnerships with organizations in Bellows Falls and Londonderry, so that the United Way can have at least $30,000 available to disburse to supervisory unions by the end of August 2022.

She acknowledged that such programs “are never going to be perfect for everyone.”

But Starr sees so much good in what Kids in Coats can do.

“I really think that we have got so many good people in this town, from the schools, to the agencies that are working with our kiddos, that we all just need to be at the same table and coming up with a program that works its best,” she said.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates