Coats for Kids program helps families make ends meet
William Dagendesh
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Coats for Kids program helps families make ends meet

by William J. Dagendesh

COLORADO SPRINGS. Scores of Colorado children are toasty warm this winter thanks to the annual Coats for Kids project.

Conducted by the Knights of Columbus (K of C) Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapter and Catholic Charities of Central Colorado (CCCC), Coats for Kids provides children with a warm, winter coat. Financial assistance is provided to the sick, disabled, and the needy and their families through this project.

K of C chapters take on projects directed by the bishop of the diocese and promote participation in the chapter, state and supreme programs.

“The chapter’s primary purpose is to provide organization, communication and support services to the councils in our chapter’s jurisdiction,” said Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapter President Jerry Schaefer.

CCCC is the social service arm of the Diocese of Colorado Springs and is one of more than 1,600 Catholic Charities USA social service agencies in the United States. CCCC provides help and creates hope for people who are poor and vulnerable in the area through the efforts of a wide range of programs and services. It was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) human service organization in 1968.

The K of C reported that about 18 percent of American children and 14 percent of Canadian children live in poverty. Many low-income families have scarce resources to cover the most basic essentials. These community members need help to provide the vital necessity of a winter coat.

The K of C launched Coats for Kids in 2009 to ensure every child in need has access to a warm winter coat.

 Since the program’s inception, councils have bought and distributed more than 800,000 new winter coats to children throughout North America.

CCCC Chief Communications Officer Rochelle Schlortt said 2014 saw her organization get involved with the drive. In that year, distribution took place in the Hanifen Center at Marian House, and the CCCC has partnered with the drive ever since.

The Knights fundraise throughout the year, then purchase boxes of new coats for boys and girls, Schlortt said.

“After the first year or two, they realized the event was not providing coats for the youngest children — infants up to toddlers who wear the smaller sizes. They found a source that provided infant and toddler coats and began purchasing those so every child who attended the event could leave with a brand-new coat,” Schlortt said.

By consolidating efforts and working through the Knights’ Colorado State Council, the chapter was eligible to receive a “match” of 15 additional boxes from the Knights’ Supreme Council in New Haven, Connecticut, and aid more people than if councils had worked on their own.

“This year we donated nearly 400 coats, most distributed through Catholic Charities, while others were distributed through local councils. In addition, Catholic Charities gave away about 60 hats and scarves made by St. Mary’s Cathedral Prayer Shawl Ministry. We had about 37 boxes containing 12 coats per box,” said Chapter Vice President Rick Ragaller.

Schlortt added, “In addition to the new coats, we can always use gently used and new boy’s and girl’s clothing (infant to children’s size 12) and new shoes. We sometimes will do a new shoe drive/gift card drive to give to the families we serve so they can purchase/choose new shoes for their kids, gloves, scarves, hats and so on.

According to Schlortt, the collection size depends chiefly on how many coats the Knights order. “We get many small sizes of clothing, but could use larger children’s clothing sizes — elementary school ages 5-12,” Schlortt said.

“I think the sizes run from about size 4 through size 16. For many of the families we serve, this is one of the few brand-new items that their kids get to pick out from a variety of styles. It is always a heartwarming day and occurs just as the weather is getting cold.”

Schlortt said being able to provide items to struggling families is a blessing because it is usually one of the few times that the children get to choose, for themselves, something that hasn’t been handed down or come from a second-hand store.

“The program can ease constraints on the family’s budget so they can make ends meet. When they don’t have to buy clothing, they can buy food, pay rent and utilities, put gas in the car . . .,” Schlortt said.

Knowing the drive has a positive effect on families is the most rewarding aspect of being involved with the project, Ragaller said.

“One year, a mother asked her daughter if she wanted the (price) tag cut off. The daughter responded, ‘No, Mommy, this is the first brand new thing I have ever had.’ So, the K of C is helping fill a need in the community,” Ragaller said. Schlortt added, “More stable families equal healthy communities.”

Schlortt encourages donors to bring new or clean, gentle-used garments folded in a bag. All donations go toward new winter coats for children in need. Drop off donations at the Marian House, 14 West Bijou St., 8 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Friday. The dock is located on the west side of the building.

Visit https://www.kofc.org/en/what-we-do/charity/index.html to make a donation to the national organization.

To donate to Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, visit www.CCharitiesCC.org or send a check to Catholic Charities, 228 N. Cascade Ave, Colorado Springs, 80903. To learn more contact Schlortt at rschlortt@CCharitiesCC.org.

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