The folks in Festus saw a need and are now meeting it. Here's the story of this growing program as told by Outreach Program Chair
Photos courtesy of Lisa Reilmann
In August of 2013, several of the women of our church were at the all church picnic and sat discussing what kinds of things our community needed, and where we could be of service to others. Carma Howard said that she had heard of people having clothing or coat giveaways, and she would like to see us do that as part of our outreach. We talked about how one of our local schools had 75% of its children at poverty level and qualifying for reduced or free lunches. We knew these families must be struggling, and coats are expensive.
I mulled this over for a few weeks, then brought it up again at the next Cabinet meeting of the church. Everyone thought it was a great idea, but was unsure how to do it. I decided to take it on, and started making announcements in church that we would have a coat giveaway in late October, on a Saturday. Since this was our first try at this, I was a little unsure of what to expect. The congregation began bringing in coats of all sizes and kinds, and we stored them in the basement. The week before the giveaway, I went through them to see what needed to be washed or mended, if any of the items were not appropriate, etc. I was surprised to see that almost every coat was clean and didn't need any mending. I had 3 to fix with minor repairs, and did so. On Saturday of the giveaway, Karen Stoll helped me and we put all the coats out on some clothing racks and the tables in our fellowship hall. We had over 200 items to give away!
The response was tremendous. We had people come in with their children in just t shirts, that went away wearing a warm coat. One little girl in particular came in with her mother and several other siblings, found a long, quilted coat that fit her perfectly! She looked up at her mother with shining eyes and said "Mom, its so WARM!". Needles to say, we were in tears. After the morning passed, we had seen about 30 or 40 people come in with no coat on, and go out with something warm on. I can't tell you how rewarding it was, and fun! We loved helping the children especially shop for a coat, then encourage them "well, you're going to need a hat and gloves, too" and watching their faces light up.
We did not require proof of income, residency or anything else. If they came in and ask for a coat, they got one. We had called the local residential homes and let them know we had free coats and several of them brought in their residents and were able to outfit them with warm winter clothing. Several people would ask "can I get a coat for my grandchild/neighbor/sister, etc. We welcomed them all to take anything they could use and welcome to it. The smiles, the faces, - they were incredible.
We held the coat giveaway again in January 2014. The result was the same. I thought that since the congregation had already given all their "gently used " coats, we might not have enough to give away, but that wasn't true. We had more coats the second time around! Congregational members starting watching the clearance racks and buying new coats cheap, talking to their neighbors and families. The local St.Vincent de Paul society cleaned out their clothes closet and brought us all the coats and warm clothing they had. During our 3rd giveaway in October 2014, a gentleman drove up in his pickup, brought in 3 small boys coats that he went out and bought that morning. He said " I saw your sign and wanted to help". We have had everything from designers coats to Wal Mart specials, and all have found a home.
3 weeks ago we had our most recent giveaway and started with over 700 items including coats, jackets, sweaters, warm clothing, hats, gloves and scarves. I had 6 church members come in and help me sort and wash and mend. We had a wonderful time in fellowship, and we gave out over 300 items and have enough for a good start for the October date.
This project has blossomed from one person's idea, to a county wide event, providing warmth and comfort to many people. I have been blessed to be a part of it. Thank you, God for placing me in this spot.