Jun 08, 2024

How Warm Coats for Cool Kids collects, distributes winter wear and hopes to expand its reach

Students show off the new coats they chose. The nonprofit Warm Coats for Cool Kids distributes coats to area schools so kids are prepared for the winter months. Last year they distributed nearly 2,000 coats. courtesy of Garry Vaccaro

Just before Christmas in 2020, Garry Vaccaro was volunteering at the Elmhurst/Yorkfield Food Pantry when he overheard a phone conversation between the pantry director and a new client.

"When the director ended her conversation with the patron she was visibly upset. When I asked her what was upsetting her, she said that the patron had called in tears saying that her children didn't have winter coats and asking if the food pantry had any coats for her children," Vaccaro said in an email.

Unfortunately, the director had to tell the woman no, they didn't distribute coats.

"I asked the director to contact the patron and tell her that I would give her a gift card to a local retailer so she could purchase winter coats for her children," he said.

Later, Vaccaro discussed the situation with his wife, Debra. Of course, he said, it stood to reason that if people needed to rely on the pantry for basic food necessities, they wouldn't be able to afford winter clothing for their kids.

That's when Warm Coats for Cool Kids, Inc. was started.

Garry said this fall will mark their third year of distributing new winter coats, hats, and gloves to children in need.

Thanks to donations from area clubs and organizations, as well as individual donors, Warm Coats for Cool Kids distributed nearly 2,000 coats last year. They are hoping to do even more this year, and to expand their services to other areas.

They rely on volunteers to make their mission a success.

"I would estimate that we have 40 to 50 people who volunteer to help us with our coat distributions," Garry said. "We get individuals and groups who volunteer. Last year our biggest volunteer group was from St. Francis High School in Wheaton."

He said that other groups who volunteer include York Key Club, Glendale Heights Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club of Elmhurst, and Rotary Club of Bensenville/Wood Dale.

The distribution events have had quite the impact on kids in need.

"Warm Coats thoughtfully and conscientiously plans to offer several options with the help of friendly community volunteers. It was truly special to experience the sense of pride from our families when they left the distribution with a new coat they chose," said Claudia Garcia, Community Engagement coordinator for Villa Park School District 45 in a testimonial letter.

Garry Vaccaro talks about how his organization works and how you can help.

Q: What is Warm Coats for Cool Kids? Give a brief overview of what the organization does.

A: Warm Coats for Cool Kids is an Elmhurst-based 501(c)3 nonprofit that supplies new winter coats to families in need. Warm Coats distributes the new coats through schools and other community organizations.

Q: How many people do you serve each year?

A: In 2022, Warm Coats distributed over 1,950 coats to children in the communities of Addison, Bellwood, Bensenville, Elmhurst, Glendale Heights, Hillside, Oakbrook Terrace, Villa Park, Wheaton, and Wood Dale.

Q: Where do the majority of your funds come from to support your work?

A: Warm Coats is supported by generous donations from corporations and individuals. Our larger donors include: DuPage Foundation, Elmhurst Chapter of 100 Plus Women Who Care, Rotary Club of Elmhurst, Rotary Club of Bensenville/Wood Dale, Kiwanis Club of Glendale Heights, Kiwanis Club of Glen Ellyn, Community Bank of Elmhurst, Enterprise Holdings Foundation, and The Elmhurst Student Philanthropy Council.

Warm Coats also receives donations from individuals who generously support our mission.

A donation of as little as $25 enables us to provide a child with a new winter coat, knit hat, and pair of knit gloves.

Q: How are the coats distributed and where?

A: Warm Coats distributes our new coats primarily through local schools. We work with the principals, social workers, and teachers at the schools to identify the children who are most in need of a new winter coat.

Staff at each school develops a list of the children that are to receive coats by gender, age, and size.

Coats are distributed at the schools from late September through early December. This ensures that the children have their coats in time for the cold weather.

Warm Coats' distribution model includes bringing enough coats to each distribution event so each child has multiple colors and styles from which to choose. The number of coats that are brought to a coat distribution is typically 2 to 2½ times the number of children that are to receive coats.

Coats are displayed by gender and size, and a volunteer assists each child as they "shop" for their new coat. Allowing each child to select their coat from a variety of options is a better experience for the child rather than simply giving them a "handout" coat.

This allows the children to have selection options so they get a true shopping experience, which adds a level of dignity and pride of ownership for the children.

This also enables the volunteers to verify that each child gets a coat that fits properly and is a style and color that they really want. The children are also able to select a new knit hat and gloves to go with their new coat.

After the coat distributions are complete, Warm Coats follows up with staff at each school to determine if any additional coats are needed for children who might not have been included in the initial distribution, or if a new family moves into the community.

Q: How can readers help your organization?

A: Warm Coats accepts donations through our website, New coats can be delivered directly to us by contacting us first at [email protected]

Donations made to Warm Coats will enable us to expand our service area and provide new coats, hats, and gloves to more children in need.

Individuals who are interested in volunteering with one of the coat distributions can contact us via our website.

Q: What else would you like readers to know?

A: Warm Coats is made up entirely of volunteers. We have no paid employees or board members. 100% of donations go to purchasing and distributing new coats, hats, and gloves for children in need.

Warm Coats for Cool Kids will be holding a September online back to school e-gift card drive. Follow us on Facebook, where you can find the link to donate.

Warm Coats for Cool Kids