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Warm coats come wrapped in kindness

by LIZ ALLEN, Staff Writer

For 28 years, members of St. Jude and St. Patrick Catholic Churches have stepped up to bundle up the guests of Emmaus Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry.

“We have an extremely generous congregation,” said Kelley Glass, who with her friend, Andrea Hallman, puts out the call every fall for donations of new and gently used coats, jackets, scarves, gloves, and mittens for those in need.

During the height of COVID, the clothing give-away moved outdoors. Now, shopping outside is part of the no-hassle experience for shoppers looking for winter clothing for themselves and their families.

Before the food pantry opened at 9 a.m. on November 6, volunteers efficiently put donations into separate piles for men, women and children. Then they sorted the clothing by size, from toddler all the way up to XXL.

Most items were stacked in tidy displays on tables. But some coats and jackets hung on fences, allowing for easy browsing and artful merchandising.

Varney picked out a 42-long, fleece-lined trench coat to ward off the cold when he rides the bus. He could never have afforded to buy a coat like the one he selected, he said.

The clothing donations are good quality, not cast-offs. And the winter wear does more than just ward off the cold. A tailored full-length coat for an adult or a neon-pink puffy child’s jacket can boost spirits.

Kelley remembers the man who came through the line once wearing a Penn State turtleneck sweatshirt he had received previously. “This is my third time wearing it,” he told her. He reserved it for special occasions, he explained, because the first time he put it on, the university attire gave him the confidence to apply for a job.

Others shared their own stories.

Donald was disappointed that he couldn’t find a heavy winter coat to fit his “broad shoulders” but was delighted to discover a hat with his name on it. He has to have broad shoulders to cope with his diagnosis as an adult on the autism spectrum, with a severe learning disability.

He lives in an old RV, parked in a driveway he rents. “I had a tiny home before tiny homes were ever on TV,” he said. With no running water, he uses water jugs for drinking and to make coffee. “People don’t like me,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’m unique. But these days, being different is dangerous.”

Michelle described the coat event as a “real blessing.” She found a long coat she will wear to walk her dog and a jacket for her 8-year-old grandson, who lives with her and her son.

A man with a walking stick was already wearing three pieces of outerwear. “I keep on wearing this stuff until it wears out,” he said.

A woman who came to Erie from Ukraine in November 2018 was looking forward to being reunited with her brother and his three children, due to arrive Erie two days later from her war-torn country. Her relatives would all need warm jackets, she said.

She doesn’t speak much English, but she wanted to make sure people understood her words of gratitude. “Thank you, America,” she said, referring to U.S. aid for Ukraine. “God bless you,” she said, and to the helpers from Emmaus Ministries and St. Jude’s.

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“This is a real blessing,” said Michelle after she found a jacket for her 8-year-old grandson, who likes to go sledding when the snow flies.

The lined trench coat was a good fit for Varney.

Volunteers Mark Izzo and Mary Nelson helped hand out gloves, scarves, and hats to Emmaus shoppers at the coat giveaway.

Shoppers had a chance to select coats and jackets at a recent event outside of Emmaus Ministries. The donations came from parish members at St. Jude’s Catholic Church.


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