MUSKEGON, MI – The Lakeshore United Way raised its biggest prize for donated winter items this year after nearly canceling its annual coat drive.
Not knowing how to safely organize a donation event due to COVID-19, the United Way decided to suspend the ride – until the coats started pouring in.
It all started with Ethan Koman, a sophomore at North Muskegon High School, who ran his own “mini-coat drive,” United Way said. He was able to collect over 50 coats by traveling the community and collecting donations.
About a week later, someone else walked by with several bags of brand new coats. And the next day another person showed up with more donations.
“It was so wild,” said Dominque Bunker, director of community engagement at Centraide.
As it became clear that the community wanted to make its contribution, Centraide relaunched the collection of coats.
About 20 different companies and organizations set up donation boxes for new and used coats, hats, mittens, snow pants and boots.
A total of 1,500 items were collected – United Way’s largest coat collection “by far,” Bunker said.
“We thought it would be a bit small. But the community really wants it, so we’re going to do it, ”Bunker said. “And then we were overwhelmed.”
Part of the success is attributable to Howmet Aerospace getting involved for the first time and contributing about a third of the coats. But Bunker also believes the flood of donations is linked to the pandemic, which has at times left people helpless.
“Giving that very opportunity to collect the coats, it was like ‘I can do something for someone right now,’” she said.
After being washed by volunteers, winter items will be delivered to local pantries, including Mission for Area People, The Salvation Army, Lebanon Luther and the Holton Community Center.
Coats were also distributed to families in the United Way’s temporary housing program and to others in need.
Centraide plans to host its Annual Baby Drive in Spring. Starting April 7, they will be picking up bottles, bibs, clothing, books and more for local pantries and a community baby shower.
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