As temperatures drop, Nashvillians pull out their much-trusted winter coats to keep them warm as the bitter winter weather approaches. But that luxury is not for everyone. According to Spotlight on Poverty, an organization that seeks to inform the policy debate about reducing poverty and increasing opportunity in the United States, Tennessee has a 15.8-percent poverty rate, which means that not all Tennesseans have the financial means to stay warm.
One Warm Coat is hoping to be a difference-maker.
“There are close to 6,000 warm coats distributed to Tennessee residents each year,” says Patti Zappa, director of development and communications with One Warm Coat, a national nonprofit that celebrated its 25-year anniversary in 2017.
In 1992, One Warm Coat founder Lois Pavlow had a spare coat and the urge to make a difference in her San Francisco community. Over the next nine years, Pavlow partnered with a local Macy’s to host a coat drive the weekend following Thanksgiving, an annual event that was met with great success and local media coverage year after year.
In November 2001, a woman named Sherri Wood overheard a story on the radio about a woman rushing to Macy’s before the coat drive ended. Wood wondered why its dates were so limited, and six months later, approached Pavlow with the idea of a coat drive program that allowed “anyone and everyone [to] enact” at any time. One Warm Coat was born.
“Starting with a volunteer staff of one, a small board of directors, zero budget and a simple website, One Warm Coat has grown from a single coat drive in San Francisco to a national movement and staff-led nonprofit organization,” Zappa says. In the 25 years since its founding, One Warm Coat has hosted more than 27,000 coat drives and has donated more than 5 million coats to those in need. In Tennessee alone, the nonprofit group has held almost 300 drives in the past decade. These efforts have raised nearly 200 coats per drive for Tennesseans in need — all coats collected are distributed in the communities where they are collected.
“Our Coat Drive Ambassadors are able to choose a nonprofit organization in their community to benefit from their coat drive,” Zappa says. “(The partners) have guaranteed to give coats away for free and without discrimination or obligation to those in need in their community.”
The ambassadors have access to a database with more than 1,000 nonprofits listed across the United States, giving them a multitude of partners to from which to choose. In the 2016-17 season alone, the celebrated nonprofit has donated nearly 600,000 coats to people in need both in the United States and in six other countries.
One Warm Coat partners with more than 10,000 companies across the United States to host coat drives, including Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. Currently in Tennessee,13 businesses are hosting one, including two in Nashville. Both Nashville J. Crew locations are raising money for coats and accepting gently used coat donations. They'll be fundraising until Dec. 25. As a gift to donors, J. Crew is offering $25 off a purchase of $125 or more. Coats may be brought to both the Green Hills Mall and Edgehill Village locations.
Outside of Nashville, the city of Franklin is accepting coats for men, women and children, all of which may be dropped off at Franklin’s City Hall. All coats will be donated to GraceWorks Ministries, a nonprofit helping those in need throughout the community — in 2016, the organization fulfilled 46,665 needs valued at $5.2 million.
Nashville features several other drop-off locations, even for businesses not able to host their own formal coat drive. Room In The Inn, The Little Pantry That Could and A Future Beyond are all confirmed drop-off locations, according to One Warm Coat’s database.
“We are supported by volunteer Coat Drive Ambassadors of all ages and representing every state, from preschools to families, faith-based groups to scouts, retail stores to large corporations and everything in-between,” Zappa says. “All because one person had one extra coat to give.”