It’s the time of year when it gets chilly enough for people to start reaching back into their closets to pull out their coats.
For some, the recent cooler temperatures are a reminder that their children have outgrown their coats from the year before or that their own coats are in bad shape. They are going to have to find the money to buy new cold-weather gear. It is just one more economic stress.
Three churches whose ministries give them a firsthand look at financial problems in the community are coordinating a coat drive this month to provide warm outerwear for St. Mary’s County residents.
Church of the Ascension on Great Mills Road provides space for HOPE, a food pantry and assistance program. Lexington Park United Methodist Church is home to the Clothes Closet, which provides free clothing in Lexington Park. First Saints Community Church runs a soup kitchen out of St. Paul’s, its Leonardtown campus.
“I saw people who need things as they are cycling through” the HOPE office, said Kae Clark of California, a member of Church of the Ascension, recalling why she organized a coat drive at her church five years ago. Clark said there were coat collection bins set up in the county but that those coats were being given to people far away, despite the need here.
“So, why don’t we have something in place locally?” she asked herself.
She brought up the idea at her church’s women’s group, which got behind it and started the annual collection. The coats and other winter clothing were collected, and a day was set aside to invite people to come pick out what they needed.
It became such a popular event that two years ago, people were lining up an hour before the giveaway began, Clark said. The church had to close two hours ahead of schedule because everything was taken.
Janna Bruno of Lexington Park, a member of Lexington Park United Methodist Church, said her church has also had a coat collection for about five years. A member, John Ince, was involved in a ministry in Nicolet Park and “he realized how much people needed it,” Bruno said.
When Bruno heard about how Church of the Ascension’s collection was cleaned out two years ago, she suggested that the two churches work together to collect and distribute coats.
After hearing about how far people were traveling to get to the coat giveaway, Clark approached churches in the central and northern sections of the county about participating. “It’s hard for these people to get around the county,” Clark said.
This year, First Saints Community Church joined in the effort, planning giveaways at two of the church’s campuses, in Ridge and Leonardtown.
“Our church is very mission-oriented and [we] don’t like to hide behind the walls,” said Jennifer Genton of Great Mills, who is heading up the First Saints coat drive. “The church has just jumped in.”
Clark and Bruno met with Genton at First Saints’ St. Paul’s campus a few weeks ago, and they worked together to move a large mound of coats from the church’s reception area to a collection of long tables in the church’s fellowship hall.
On Saturday, Church of the Ascension, Lexington Park United Methodist and the Leonardtown and Ridge campuses of First Saints Community Church will open at 9 a.m. to distribute coats, hats, scarves, gloves and mittens, boots, blankets and sleeping bags. People who could use those kinds of items are invited to stop by. No one will be asked to demonstrate their need.
Residents, businesses and other churches are invited to take up their own collection of coats and other cold-weather gear and bring those donations to one of the churches to help with the effort.
The fifth annual coat giveaway will be Saturday at the following locations:
*Church of the Ascension, 21580 Great Mills Rd., Lexington Park, 9 a.m. to 1.
*Lexington Park United Methodist, 21640 Great Mills Rd., Lexington Park, 9 a.m. to noon.
*First Saints Community Church in Leonardtown: St. Paul’s campus, 25550 Point Lookout Rd.; and First Friendship campus, 13723 Point Lookout Rd., Ridge, 9 a.m. to noon.