"Coats For Kids 2012" is now over for another year, as members of the Parksville AM and Qualicum Beach Rotary Club, along with students from Ballenas Secondary School, spent November 19 distributing warm winter outerwear to those who might otherwise feel the cold this winter.  Donors were very generous this year, and distribution day at the SOS saw many coats and accessories being selected for all ages, shapes and sizes.

Photo shows volunteers in front of bags of clothing ready to be sorted.

We are fortunate to have the support of several Oceanside businesses that ensure all the coats are clean and presentable.  Sorting and storage facilities are provided by the Parksville Beach Motel. The Bayside and Tigh-na-mara resorts use their large machines to wash clothing, while Fifth Generation Cleaners looks after those needing dry cleaning. 

Photo shows a group of volunteers from "Coats For Kids 2005" with warm winter outwear ready for distribution.

The purpose of Coats for Kids is to provide clean winter coats and assorted items of winter clothing to children, teens and adults in Oceanside. Making this clothing available also enables families in need to steer their limited clothing budgets toward other requirements.  This initiative was recognized in 2007 by a Rotary International Significant Achievement Award.

For a full history of "Coats For Kids" in the Oceanside area, please keep reading ...

A History of "Coats For Kids"

“Coats for Kids” was initiated by the Community Service Committee of the Rotary Club of Parksville AM in 1996/97.  It was the suggestion of Darryl Craig who was Principal of Ballenas Secondary School at the time. While teaching up north, Darryl and his school had been involved in a “Coats for Kids” project with another service club.   He presented the concept to the Ballenas Leadership Class who also eagerly came on board.  

At that time, the Parksville AM Rotary Club was in the process of forming a partnership with Ballenas Secondary School and we thought this would be a good partnership trial to see how well we worked together in a 50-50 workload split.  It was a great start and resulted in a formal Rotary-Ballenas partnership.  Since then, Ballenas students have been part of almost every one of our service and fundraising projects, including Crabfest, Taste of Oceanside, Artsrageous and the ALS Walk, to name only a few.

The Club approached the SOS for a location to set up coat distribution.  They then began organizing posters/advertising and arranging for a laundry and cleaning establishment.  The advertisement stressed donations of clean, warm, like-new/gently used coats, scarves, hats, mitts, gloves and boots … items you would have no trouble giving your own family to wear.  Yes, there were donations of less than desirable winter wear, but overall the donations were good quality; we even had some folks donating brand new coats, items purchased especially for the project.

Ballenas canvassed all the schools, set up painted/decorated collection boxes and collected the donated items in time for sorting prior to the distribution date.  They also provided home-made cookies which some of us helped the students bake on a Saturday at the school. The students helped sort and cull donations prior to the distribution day, helped setting up the night before and on the day of distribution, and helped pack up afterwards. There were clothing drop-off sites at Marlin Travel, Close to You Lingerie, several banks, Credit Unions in the Oceanside area, Red Gap Credit Union, the Bayside and The Beach Motel. Rotarians visited other Oceanside Rotary clubs to let them know about the project. 

Our promotional efforts focused on reaching out to those needing warm winter wear.  We stressed that recipients did not have to register, fill out forms or jump through any hoops in order to qualify to receive coats for their families … just come!  The project was well attended and we were cautious not to overwhelm the recipients with too many volunteers.  We tried to be sensitive to the fact that it is important to those in need that their dignity and self worth not be compromised. 

We received donations of juice and coffee from local businesses which were available for customers and volunteers.  The distribution site was open from 10 am until 4 pm for the first couple of years.  Later, we reduced the end time to 2 pm as we found that most people arrived for 10, and the rush or crush was over by noon.  In 2004, we partnered with the Salvation Army and distributed coats for two days, Monday and Wednesday which were Soup Kitchen days, with shifts from 10:45 to 1:45 pm each day.

Throughout the history of “Coats for Kids”, we have always have received far more clothing than we have been able to hand out locally to needy families.  We have therefore taken the excess donations to the SOS and Salvation Army Thrift Stores. In 2006, we met with Building Learning Together‘s (BLT) Deborah Davenport to deal with distribution of excess coats in Oceanside and we visited their Words On Wheels (WOW) bus sites to distribute clothing.  We also delivered coats to three elementary schools in Parksville, Bowser and Errington. In 2007, we distributed coats at two sites: at the Salvation Army on Wednesday’s Soup Kitchen Day from 11 – 2, and at the SOS on Saturday from 10 – 2 pm. Excess children’s coats went to BLT and Parksville Elementary School, while adult coats went out of Oceanside.

Clothing left after the distribution has become a concern over the past five years.  It was felt that unused donations should not be given to the two local not-for- profit thrift shops, as donors might be upset by seeing their donations up for sale.  It has therefore been a scramble to find locations out of the Oceanside community to distribute the excess clothing.   Locations have included Nanoose First Nations Band Office as well as the Nanaimo “Coats for Kids” project, Port Alberni Salvation Army and Vancouver.  One of our members traveling to Mexico even took several large bundles of coats. In 2007, some of the younger-aged clothing was distributed through the WOW bus locations and BLT, as well as the Parksville, Bowser and Errington Elementary Schools.  Last year, Helen Dyck and I co-chaired the project.  The event took place one day only and was held at the Pauline Touzeau Centre at the SOS. Although the number of clients was down from the early years, there was still an increase over the previous 3-4 years.

Over time, we have made significant inroads into the problem of excess clothing.  “Coats For Kids” promotional material now includes the message: “reduce, recyle and reuse to support the environment”, and donors are made aware that any clothing remaining after the distribution will be donated to the two  Oceanside not-for-profit thrift shops, the SOS and  the Salvation Army.  We have also contacted BLT/WOW bus, Family Resource Associations in Qualicum Beach and Parksville, the churches in Oceanside, Associated Family & Community Support, and Parksville Elementary School. And again, Ballenas Leadership Class has partnered with us. When we contacted Qualicum First Nations Band, we learned that they now hold their own “Coats for Kids” campaign.  Not only did those contacts advertise the project to their clients, but they were all part of distributing the excess.  We are pleased to report that not one coat went out of the Oceanside District last year. 

In 2009, Qualicum Beach Sunrise Rotary Club partnered with the Parksville AM Club and it has been even more successful with them on board.  That year, they had their own distribution day in Qualicum Beach, but in 2010 and 2011, they joined us in a single distribution day in Parksville.  Their help in circulating the clothing afterwards to schools and agencies has proven to be a big help. 

Once again, left-over clothing was distributed to several elementary and middle schools in District 69, and also to emergency-assisted clients at the SOS, Food Bank and Soup Kitchen clients at the Salvation Army, clients at the Family Resource Association in Parksville and Qualicum Beach, at St. Stephen’s Church, to Building Learning Together and WOW Bus clientele, and to Nanoose First Nations.  Excess clothing is also given to the two not-for-profit Thrift Stores at the SOS and Salvation Army, with any funds from these sales going to support community programming.

The Oceanside community is so very generous and supportive.  We couldn’t do it without the response we receive from the community.