It started out with just 48 coats, donated by the members of The Rotary Club of Burnaby Metrotown.
Fourteen years later, the Rotary Coats for Kids program now delivers more than 1,300 coats annually to elementary and high schools across Burnaby, and to various other organizations serving families in need.
“It’s wonderful to see it grow, but it’s also sad to see there’s still a need for it,” says Darlene a 19-year member of the Rotary Club of Burnaby Metrotown. “Unfortunately, B.C. leads the way in child poverty with as many as one in five children living in poverty in B.C. today. That number hasn’t changed in years. We need to be more proactive.”
The Coats for Kids program was created in response to the alarming child poverty statistic, delivering winter coats to children across Burnaby whose families couldn’t otherwise afford them.
“Some parents have to choose between putting food on the table and getting a winter coat for their child,” says Darlene. “Can you imagine having to make that choice? With the help of the program, it’s one less stressful thing they need to deal with in their daily life.”
The program was conceived by the Burnaby Neighbourhood House. As it expanded, The Rotary Club of Burnaby Metrotown took over the management of the program while the Burnaby Neighbourhood House continues to provide support and volunteers.
Today, the program is a true community affair with the community donating coats & seniors’ residences donating hand-knitted scarves and mittens to go with the coats. Local businesses contribute storage, delivery truck, donations & volunteers. The city of Burnaby even provides free parking for the coat delivery truck.
Every September, The Rotary Club of Burnaby Metrotown promotes Coats for Kids at the public library’s annual summer reading program wrap-up barbeque.
“It brings the whole community together,” says Darlene. “And it shows these kids that the community cares about them, that they’re not forgotten.”
Coat collections and donations begin in the spring. Drop offs are scheduled with schools and participating organizations in October and November.
“We do it discreetly, so the kids can come to the truck and choose their coats,” Darlene says. “We usually make sure we get double the amount of coats we need so they have a choice.”
All the coats that go unclaimed off the trucks find homes elsewhere, says Darlene, such as homeless shelters.
“I had a woman come onto the truck thinking she would never find a coat for her 10-year-old son,” Darlene recounts. “When she found one, there were tears in her eyes, and she gave me a hug.”
The program recently received the award for Best Project in Rotary District 5040.