With the chill of the upcoming winter in the air, three western Massachusetts churches are joining together to provide coats for those who need them.
The First Church of Monson, UCC, Wilbraham United Church, and the First Congregational Church UCC in East Longmeadow are collecting coats for children and adults throughout the month of November and will deliver the coats to the Springfield Rescue Mission
in time for winter weather.
Although this sounds like a fairly common mission project, the three churches stepped up the campaign by making it into a contest.
Becky McCracken, a member of the Outreach Commission at Wilbraham United Church
, explained that when the Outreach Commission decided to hold a One Warm Coat
drive last year to benefit the Springfield Rescue Mission, the church administrator came up with the idea of challenging their sister churches. It worked so well, they decided to do it again this year.
One Warm Coat is a national non-profit organization that works to provide a free, warm coat to any person in need by providing tools and resources to help groups hold a successful coat drive. Since its inception in 1992, One Warm Coat has worked with its volunteers to give away over 4 million coats.
First Church of Monson Outreach Committee members Cheryl Cheetham, Laurie Clarke and Lisa Borlen display some of the coats collected for the drive.
All three churches utilized the One Warm Coat website resources to organize and publicize the event. The organization offers tools and templates -- including sample press releases, flyers, email messages, brochures, poster, and social media messages -- to help make a successful event. In addition, they offer a guide of 6 Easy Steps
for hosting a One Warm Coat Challenge. The only other things needed for the challenge were a place to store the coats and a group of volunteers to count and deliver the coats to the Springfield Rescue Mission.
"We took advantage of the resources and then put up posters and decorated large cardboard collection boxes with bright gift wrap paper," said McCracken. "Then we reminded people and brought out their competitive spirit by publishing a coat count in the weekly bulletin." The church also provided a collection box at a local retirement community.
The Monson church took to Facebook and utilized the town's park and recreation newsletter to reach the community.
Last year the Wilbraham Church collected 134 coats, and they are aiming for 150 this year. Monson is also aiming to increase their donation from 127 to 150. East Longmeadow's First Congregational Church
came in third in last year's challenge, but still collected an impressive 99 coats.
"Even though we lost the challenge last year, 99 folks could face the winter months with a donated warm coat from our church," said Laura Palmer, a member of that church's Outreach Committee.
"We learned that families with children make up 35% of the US homeless population. One in five children is living in poverty, 15% of seniors live in poverty, and 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year," said McCracken. "Luke 3:11 says that 'If you have two coats, give one away,' so this is a great way we can live out our faith."
"We too have taken direction from our Bible," explained Lisa Borlen, a member of the First Church of Monson
. "We were reminded of both Luke 3:11 and Matthew 25:34-40 which reads in part: 'I was naked and you gave me clothing...' and then goes on to say 'And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"
McCracken encourages other churches to join in the One Warm Coat drive. "We had a 'warm' and wonderful response from the community. Our friendly challenge with First Congregational in East Longmeadow and First Church of Monson helped to collect nearly three times the number that Wilbraham United Church could have collected on our own."
Although bragging rights was the only prize involved in the competition, it looks like everyone was a winner.
Coats in good condition (no broken zippers, please) may be dropped off at the First Church of Monson, 5 High Street; Wilbraham United Church, 500 Main Street; or the First Congregational Church, 7 Somers Road at the East Longmeadow rotary.