Winter Warmth: How to help protect area's needy
Kansas City winters can be harsh. Without a coat and other cold-weather gear, it can be brutal.
Many organizations in town collect and distribute winter wear for the homeless and low-income. But with so many agencies, it can be overwhelming to decide who to help and even how to help. Should you donate coats or blankets? Are gently worn items OK or must they be new? What about a gift card?
First on the agenda is to determine what agency you wish to help, says Vickie Riddle, executive director of Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City, an umbrella agency for 75 area social service agencies.
“Choose an agency that resonates with you,” Riddle says. “Do you belong to a women’s organization who may wish to collect donations for a women’s shelter? Women and children often leave home with almost nothing because they are escaping an abusive situation.”
Needs also are great for people living in other types of transitional housing, for emergency shelters and for the homeless, she adds. And many refugees arrive to the Kansas City area from foreign countries with little or no winter clothing, according to Jewish Vocational Services, Kansas City’s leading refugee resettlement agency.
Second, Riddle says, contact the agency of your choice. “Always ask agencies ‘what do you need?’ because the poor have many needs,” she stresses. “Many of the poor live in non-energy efficient buildings. What they really need are donations to help pay for utilities.”
Contacting agencies in advance also will let you know whether they have the capacity to store donations and the staff or volunteers to distribute donated items. Some agencies may be able to help you publicize your collection drive.
Kansas City’s major collection drives typically are organized in autumn. The Kansas City Royals Annual Coat drive collects new and gently used winter coats for all ages for the Johnson County Christmas Bureau’s annual Holiday Shop. Project Warmth collects winter clothing items that are redistributed by the Salvation Army to more than 50 agencies and shelters in the eight-county metro area.
But the need for warm clothing is ongoing, says Amanda Waters, public relations director at the Salvation Army. The organization operates its Homeless Outreach “Honk and Holler” program three evenings per week, year-round.
“On a typical night, we serve 100 to 200 homeless individuals depending on the weather,” she says. “For various reasons, they don’t want to go to shelters. Instead, they brave the cold. But they know us and know our trucks. They’re not afraid of us. We bring them food and warm clothing. We help keep them alive during winter months.”
The needs of the poor aren’t just during the holiday season, Riddle adds.
“People usually donate Nov. 15 through Jan. 1,” she says. “But they don’t always think about the needs of the poor during the rest of the year.”
TAKE THE LEAD
Motivated to organize your own drive? Here’s how:
• Select an agency from a list at ww.hscgkc.org.
• Check out the agency’s website for contact information and needs.
• Contact the agency development director or other point person. Inform them of your interest in organizing a collection drive. Better yet, ask “What do you need?”
• Set up a time, date and location. Will you ask your church, employer, children’s school or women’s organization to help you?
• Establish your criteria so people will know what they can donate. Will you be collecting coats for a children’s agency for boys and girls ages 5 to 18?
• Advertise your event. Ask agencies if they assist with getting the word out. Use social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Write a press release to email to local news outlets. Include who, what, when, where, why and how, and don’t forget contact information.
• Have a delivery plan. Will the agency pick up donations or do you need to have a truck to load and transport donations to them?
If you’d like to make a donation, search your closets and cupboards for gently worn items you no longer use. Stop by your local thrift store and cull the racks for good coats and other winter wear. Keep your eye on store sales. And don’t forget to contact family and friends and ask them to do the same.