MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
According to the calendar, spring is just around the corner, which means a balmier climate is on the horizon.
The warmer weather will have no bearing on the all-out efforts of One Warm Coat, a nonprofit with a mission to provide free coats to people in need.
Since 1992, One Warm Coat has worked with volunteers to host nearly 39,000 coat drives. The organization, which also accepts any type of outerwear including hats, scarves, mittens and gloves, has given away more than 6.8 million coats across the United States.
One Warm Coat’s values include believing in the basic right to protection from the cold, appreciating and honoring its volunteers, providing coats to people in need, free of charge and without discrimination or obligation, treating the people they serve with dignity and respect, creating connections in local communities by fostering volunteerism and promoting sustainability through the reuse and repurposing of outerwear.
Beth Amodio, 52, the president and CEO of One Warm Coat, has been with the organization for three years. About eight years ago when her eldest son was in kindergarten in a mixed socio-economic area, she noticed there were some families that were struggling.
“I told a social worker at the school that I wanted to help,” said Amodio, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “It was October at the time. She said it was going to be cold soon and that some kids and their families were going to need some coats.”
Amodio took it upon herself to reach out to her church, neighbors, friends and book club members to “clean out their closets and give me the coats they weren’t wearing.”
“My car was stuffed with coats,” said Amodio, who used to be a senior director of development and communications for Second Harvest Food Bank in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in the Bay Area. “After that, our coat drives grew. I did it as a volunteer for the next five years. I tell kids that I came to One Warm Coat through one question, How can I help?”
What Amodio did is pretty much what happens across the country. The organization’s many volunteers enlist friends, colleagues — just about anyone — to step up and donate coats to those less fortunate.
In fact, One Warm Coat, the only national organization supporting coat drives, started with one woman in San Francisco who wanted to donate her own coat to someone in need. She started a coat drive and it took off. Now One Warm Coat is in all 50 states and has thousands of coat drives every year.
“People think because it’s warm in California and Florida, that there isn’t a need for a coat drive,” said Amodio, a married mother of two boys. “The types of coats that come in are what is needed in that place. Florida is fleece pullovers and raincoats. Minnesota would be down coats with hoods. What is donated is what is needed.”
One Warm Coat doesn’t just serve homeless people. They serve families, infants, veterans, seniors citizens and everyone in between.
“I feel like there are so many people with generous hearts,” said Amodio, who has a master’s degree in institutional advancement from Vanderbilt University. “They want to help. It can be overwhelming when you think how you can change the world.”
Amodio, who has more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit organizations and educational institutions, said a tangible first step to helping is simply to clean out one’s own closet and donate whatever is not in use.
“Anyone can hold a coat drive,” she said. “Our ambassadors hold coat drives, children hold coat drives. Everyone from an individual to large companies like Delta Airlines can hold a coat drive.”
Annually, One Warm Coat distributes 500,000 coats. The coats are distributed through a network of nonprofit organizations across the country. Some of their nonprofit partners include homeless shelters, senior day care centers, schools and more.
One Warm Coat’s statistics show that approximately 200,000 people die each year from the cold. Exposure to cold predisposes people, especially children, to infections like pneumonia and cold weather makes the body work harder, putting stress on the heart to ensure the body stays warm.
Children are unable to regulate their body temperatures like adults can. They can quickly develop hypothermia without protection from the cold. A 2015 study found up to a 31% increase in heart attacks in the coldest months of the year compared with the warmest.
Like other organizations, when COVID-19 hit, it adversely affected the donations One Warm Coat receives.
Amodio said the pandemic impacted the lives of millions of people. She found families that were already struggling were now at severe risk and many would be unable to pay their utility bills. The need for coats this past fall and winter, she said, was greater than ever before.
“It had an extreme impact on our program,” Amodio said. “We had more than a 50% decrease in the number of coat drives that took place. A lot are held at companies where employees hold them. A lot of places of business were closed, so the coat drives couldn’t take place.
“Schools and faith-based organizations were also closed,” she added. “It’s our hope people will want to collect coats again. Maybe a back-to-school kick-off would work. We like to get coats to them before the cold weather arrives.”
Amodio said in order to get creative, a school in Atlanta asked families to drive through and hand the coats out of the window.
Typically, the organization’s busy season is the end of August through the end of February.
“However, we do have people who hold coat drives year-round,” Amodio said. “Some are holding drives this spring as a spring clean challenge.”
Due to COVID, last year, One Warm Coat had to purchase a number of coats because of the decrease in donations.
“We had to pivot, so we purchased coats to ship to agencies in need,” Amodio said. “What we found was our agencies were reporting 30-50% increase across the board in demand for their services. We pivoted by building partnerships with large nonprofits.”
One Warm Coat distributed new coats and “gently worn” coats to recipients who are allowed to pick out the coat they want.
“We are adamant that we want the coat to be in good shape, not stained or torn,” Amodio said.
Most people don’t know that One Warm Coat is a virtual organization.
“We were virtual before virtual was cool,” Amodio said. “We don’t have a headquarters or facility. Our overhead is low. Our donations go straight to programs, not to utilities. Our impact statement is powerful. Every $1 donated, warms one person.”
Every year there is a One Warm Coat Day, a day of awareness, activation and support. This year it’s Oct. 7.
“People want to help,” Amodio said. “I truly think one of the silver linings of the pandemic is a feeling that we are all in this together and an awareness of the suffering of other people. People are looking for ways to end the suffering of people.”
Anyone interested in holding a coat drive can register on OneWarmCoat.org.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.