Coats for Kids program entering its 27th year

By Philip Case, Published:

As sure as spring becomes summer and summer morphs into fall, winter is certain to follow. And with it comes cold and snowy weather.

For most of us, winter is more of an inconvenience than anything else. Sure, there’s some fun to be had with sleigh riding and days out of school – at least for the children, but driving can become a headache and frozen pipes a nightmare.

But through it all we know all we need do is go to the closet and pull out increasingly warmer coats to match the day.

Would that it was so for all among us.

Now in its 27th year, Bill and Jenny May have been spearheading what the recently elected mayor of Frankfort calls a “community project,” Coats for Kids. How the project becomes “community” is when folks pitch in a few dollars to help Bill and Jenny buy the coats, storing, then help with the sorting and distribution.

In the early years, they handled 100 coats or so. Now it’s up to at least 600 a year, sometimes more depending on the need. The hope is to get each child his or her new winter coat before school breaks for Christmas – which is this week!

The Mays used to store and sort the coats in their basement, then all over the house until the project finally outgrew their home. C. Michael Davenport lets them use one of his buildings. He’s one of those “partners.”

“I don’t know what we would do without that,” Bill says.

NAMES FROM SCHOOLS

Here’s how Coats for Kids works: School counselors and teachers start watching for kids who don’t have warm coats as the weather gets colder in the fall. That may have been a problem this year with the mild weather we’ve experienced pretty much all fall.

They then estimate coat sizes and get this information to Bill and Jenny who tabulate how many coats and in what sizes are required to fill the needs.

While it would be ideal to purchase locally, it’s very difficult to get the sizes and quantities needed. Imagine, if you will, trying to purchase 600 coats locally. Likely as not you’d wipe out the stock of several stores that would love to help but are in the business to make a profit and simply can’t sell that many coats at just slightly above cost.

The Mays do turn to local retailers to fill in the gaps in the order and, they say, the retailers are always as helpful as they can be.

A number of years ago, the Mays turned to New York City wholesalers.

“This was because the generosity of the community allowed up to get a year ahead financially,” Bill said. “In other words, the coats we bought for this year were purchased with money given last year.”

Sounds ideal but sometimes it doesn’t work out just as planned and the Mays find themselves with an order on hand, the bill coming due in 30 days and not enough in the bank to pay it. Such is the situation this December.

“Usually we start with about $14-15,000 in the bank,” Bill said. “This year in November we had $7,000 and right now we have about $9,500. It seems we’re in constant catch-up mode and it’s good our suppliers are understanding.

“Right now we owe them about $15,000 and we have 30 days to pay.” You can do the math on that one.

NEVER STOPPED

But the challenge of financing the project has never stopped Bill and Jenny May from continuing, one year to the next. Both have a deep faith that the people of this community will come through.

“There have been years we’ve had single donations as high as $1,500,” said May. “And others have sent $1 or $5 with a note saying they wish they could do more. It’s that kind of spirit that makes it all worth it.”

That and the looks on the faces of the children who receive the coats.

“For some of these kids,” Bill said, “this is the first new thing they’ve ever had, something that’s theirs and not a hand-me-down from an older sibling or from a second-hand store. And the notes of thanks are just priceless.”

Both Bill and Jenny May are extremely humble about their work with the program, always being quick to thank those they call “partners” in the community like the media, the wholesale and retail world, and school personnel. Thing is, without their continued efforts the program would have died years ago.

If you would like to be a part of this partnership, make your check to “Coats for Kids” and send it to 1121 Collins Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601. And remember, like all of the other helping organizations mentioned here today, no gift is too small or large.

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