BARRHEAD/WESTLOCK-Thankfully, this will not be the year Lane Lee mothballs the Coats for Kids program.
The Barrhead Cleaners owner started the program over three decades ago to help children who did not have appropriate winter apparel, namely jackets and ski pants, stay warm for the winter.
Lee collects the outerwear, cleans them and then delivers it to Barrhead and District Family Community Support Services (FCSS) who distributes the items to those in need.
"I have always said as long as there is a need, I will keep doing it and year after year, I keep being told that the need is there," he said.
And the need is there, said Barrhead FCSS community development and volunteer coordinator Rae Whiting.
In total they gave out 30 children’s and youth’s winter coats and 13 snow pants. This is not including any adults that accessed the program.
And she believes the need will more than likely increase this year.
Coats of Kids was the brainchild of former Barrhead Leader publisher Al Blackmere.
“Al noticed that there were a lot of children in the community who didn’t seem to have proper winter gear," Lee said. "He asked me if I would be willing to collect the winter coats and ski pants, clean them and distribute them while he helped get the word out."
As time progressed, other sponsors stepped forward to help cover the cleaning costs, such as the long-time sponsor Servus Credit Union.
Initially, the program started small. People would drop off their gently used winter attire to Lee, who would clean them, and in some cases, make minor repairs to the garments.
However, as the demand and generosity of Barrhead area residents grew beyond his ability to store and distribute the apparel, eventually, FCSS took over the distribution of the garments.
“It was just a better fit,” he said. “Not only does FCSS have more room, but it is often the first place people go when they are in need.”
Last year, after purchasing Westlock Dry Cleaners, Lee expanded the program to Westlock, helping formalize a program the municipality's FCSS already in place.
Program coordinator Carol Kassian said FCSS had their own version of Coats for Kids, but it was much more informal.
She addded that the organization asked the public for donations of gently used, clean winter wear items, did any additional cleaning or repairs in-house, and then put them on racks at FCSS for people to come in and choose the items they needed.
As a result, Kassain said, they do not have an idea of how many individuals took advantage of the program.
However, due to COVID, changes in how the way Coats for Kids was administered was necessary, allowing them to have more idea of how many clients and items were distributed.
"We helped twenty adults and 20 youths and children received winter coats, ski pants, or snowboots, if they were available," she said, adding everyone also received toques and gloves.
In both Barrhead and Westlock, people are required to register for the program via the telephone and they are given an appointment time when they can come down to their prospective FCSS buildings.
Both Whiting and Kassain noted the registration process is so that FCSS staff can get a better idea of their needs, so that they can have a range of items ready for when people pick up their items.
"We are trying to minimize the number of people we have in our building and potential exposure," Whiting said.
In Barrhead, donations can be made at Barrhead Cleaners (5013-51 Street) and Servus Credit Union (4929-50 Avenue) from Oct. 12 to Nov. 1 during regular business hours. Registration starts Oct. 19 with pickups starting on Tuesday, Nov. 2, by appointment only.
In Westlock, donations can be dropped off at Westlock Dry Cleaners (10115-104 Avenue) and FCSS (10004-107 Street). The drop-off dates mirror Barrhead's. Appointments for pickup will start Oct. 29 and will go to Dec. 17.
While the program is primarily for children from newborns to late teens, all sizes of apparel are accepted, including adult. The drop-off dates mirror Barrhead's.
"When a family comes in, often everyone is in need," Whiting said. "If you are in a position to donate, if you are a family, it would be wonderful if each one could donate something."
Ideally, Lee said they ask for gently used items, because he can't make anything other than small repairs. However, he never turns articles away.
"If anything is unserviceable, we will find another use for it," he said, adding he often donates surplus items to the Bissell Centre or Mustard Seed in Edmonton.
Barry Kerton, TownandCountryToday.com