February 2021 – Polar vortex means two things for most of us: 1) hunkering down in the shelter of our cozy homes wrapped in an afghan blanket our grandma crafted, and 2) layering on winter outerwear to keep our teeth from chattering while commuting to work, walking the dog, or buying groceries.
For some though, warding off Canada’s wind chill and snow drifts in winter months isn’t nearly as easy as grabbing another layer from the hallway closet. In some homes, even a first warm layer isn’t hanging there, never mind a second for those extra frosty mornings. Without the means to purchase adequate winter wear for tobogganing or even walking to school, families and their children struggle to stay warm when thermometers plunge below zero.
Recognizing this community need nearly thirty years ago, the United Way in the Edmonton region created a program to collect, sort, package, and redistribute coats and other winter wear through local social agencies. Aptly named Coats for Kids and Families, the initiative provided over 8,200 coats in 2019 to people who needed them most. Part of the Sturgeon Refinery’s annual United Way campaign last fall – Spread the Warmth – included a winter gear drive. Two years ago, the collection involved personal protective equipment (PPE) – work boots, coveralls, safety glasses, gloves – for those in search of employment but without the resources to source these necessary items required for certain jobs. The success of collecting over 250 PPE items was the motivation to host a drive again, but this time with a winter warmth theme.
Staff at the refinery gathered gently used toques, mitts, scarves, socks, ski pants, hoodies, and jackets – all things that all young snowmen builders and winter fort seekers require to enjoy their days outdoors. Following a ten-day campaign, the boxes of donations were delivered to a very appreciative staff at United Way’s InKind Exchange in Edmonton. Volunteers safely quarantined, sorted, prepped, and paid forward the collection to families across the region. While the pandemic added a few extra safety protocols, it thankfully didn’t prevent the program from getting coats to kids as snow fort season approached.
As winter rolls on and we reach for our second (and sometimes third!) layer of fleece or wool when the wind chill is almost unbearable, dozens of more families in our local communities now have that option in their entrance closet, making their winter much warmer.