It was a brisk fall day, and families came in looking for warm clothes for the cold weather ahead. There was so much commotion with people trying on various coats, picking out a color and style that would suit their preference. Trying on mittens for their tiny hands, children were also looking for jackets that would fit their small frames. Everybody looked around in awe at the sheer number and variety of coats, hats, mittens and scarves that were available. There were ten racks of coats in the main room and many more bags of outerwear that were stored in the back closet waiting to be put out.
This was not your average Macy’s or Kohl’s. This was a place called Amos House in Providence, Rhode Island, where 200 to 300 people usually come for meals daily. Indigent families appear, single parents arrive with their children, and many homeless people are served meals here. Because flyers had been distributed in advance announcing the coat give-away, 450 people showed up. These extra people did not pose a problem, however, because I had collected over 1,000 coats.
I had arrived at this idea from volunteering during meal time at Amos House, where I had noticed that many of the people who came in were under-dressed and poorly prepared for the winter. I couldn’t imagine not having a warm coat for the New England weather. After discussing the situation with the director, I came up with the idea to help them by collecting outerwear at various locations around Rhode Island. After decorating the boxes, I placed them in local schools, grocery stores and libraries. Also, by sending articles to local newspapers, I was able to amass 1,222 coats and 630 accessories in four weeks. All of these items I washed and sorted by gender and size, then placed into individual bags to make it faster and easier for set up.
The distribution day was a big day for me and the people I was helping. I had rented ten racks and set them up for the coats to be displayed. In addition, I built a coat rack for Amos House to use for future use as well. The reason I wanted to set it up as a department store is that I did not want people that were coming to Amos House for the distribution to have to rummage through bags of coats, hats, mittens and scarves that were just thrown on the table or floor. I wanted them to walk in, find what they wanted, and be able to walk out with dignity. I had bought reusable bags for them to put their items in as well, so they truly felt like shoppers with their newly acquired merchandise.
After six hours, everyone who came for outerwear had been served. Feeling relieved that it had gone so well and exhausted from all of the work involved, I also felt proud and exhilarated from the entire experience. I realized that I had made a difference in many people’s lives when one of the “shoppers” said to me, “We are so thankful that there are people like you in this world.”
Throughout my teenage years, I have enjoyed working with disadvantaged children and adults. Wherever life takes me, I plan to become involved in more projects where I can make a difference by providing a helping hand to those in need.