Coats of Caring gives students, volunteers chance to give back

ANDERSON — Among the nearly 80 volunteers selecting, packing and distributing winter coats to those in need Saturday were members of the Interact Club, a Rotary-sponsored group of Anderson High School students who, in the words of Connor King, “are interested in giving back to their community.”

Nearly 40 club members joined a similar number of volunteers from Community Hospital Anderson to help empty the lobby of Madison Park Church of God, which had housed more than 1,000 coats since Friday. Organizers said about 300 cars made went through the pickup line during the three-hour event, and more than 1,200 coats were given away.

“I just think it’s a really good opportunity to give back to the community and provide people with coats who may not have them for the cold winter,” said AHS senior Talaysha Simonds as she searched a rack containing girls’ coats for a color matching a request form she held.

Since the giveaway’s founding 23 years ago, Community Hospital staff members led by Keith Trent, who spent 38 years as a human resources representative at the hospital and for whom the event was renamed in 2014, have gathered and prepared thousands of new and gently used coats for distribution.

Those staff members, according to Tom Bannon, vice president of community engagement and chief foundation officer at Community Hospital, believe that the intention behind Coats of Caring meshes well with the hospital’s mission.

“Community Health Network is dedicated to health and well-being,” Bannon said. “That extends outside the walls of the hospital, too. If you don’t have a coat during the wintertime, that’s going to make it more challenging to have good health and well-being.”

King, another AHS senior who is in his second year as president of Interact, said the group has grown to 70 students this year. Its leadership, he said, is constantly seeking opportunities to share with members what leadership in action looks like.

“We do anything we can to help, and it’s so great that we have this outlet that we can use to give back to others,” King said. “There are people in need out there who do need coats, who would have cold winters without these coats.”

Several AHS students were volunteering at the event for the first time, and they said the volume of coats they sorted through was a helpful reminder that generous giving — of time and resources — is still a priority in their community.

“It’s kind of cool seeing how many people are willing to donate coats and how many people came out and actually need coats,” said Bry’Asia Peoples, a senior. “It’s great helping them and making sure they have a lot of warmth for the winter.”

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.