by Melanie London
Our Closet is known across Philadelphia for Coat Day, the day we serve over 800 people, all in need of a warm winter coat to get them through the season. We prepare all year long, collecting coat donations, and on the big day, by far our largest pop-up, they are ready to go, set up nicely on racks according to size.
This year we were at Rodeph Shalom on Broad Street, one of our usual pop-up sites, and welcomed shoppers in for a morning shift and another one in the evening. Over 50 volunteers were there to help our shoppers find what they were looking for, shoppers who were experiencing homelessness, shoppers who just spent their social security check on food and rent and couldn’t afford a coat, shoppers who were trying to find work after returning to their communities after incarceration, shoppers with hundreds of different stories that led them to Coat Day.
There is nothing like matching a shopper with the perfect coat. Seeing the look of certainty and confidence that materializes on someone’s face as they see themselves in the mirror looking great in a coat that fits, that matches their style, that will keep them warm. There were many of these moments during the early session. Everyone was floating on a cloud of positivity, connection and gratitude.
And then it was time for the evening session. And one of our dedicated volunteers said, “Where are the extra bags of Large, XL & Plus size coats so I can put more on the racks?” But there were none. Because with over 500 shoppers having already been though, there were hardly any larger sizes left, only the 40 or so that were already on the racks. See, we had over 1,000 coats to give away, but the ones we had in abundance were small and medium, and the larger ones we needed were almost gone.
So while we were able to serve 300 more shoppers that night, there were some others that went home disappointed at not being able to find a coat they liked in their size. And that was heartbreaking. It’s one of the consistent challenges with running a program such as this one, that depends on donations and commits to quality – sometimes we just don’t have enough of what we need. We do coat drives with schools and businesses, we reach out to retailers for help, but we can’t help every person with exactly what they need every time. But each obstacle just drives us to do everything we can to try to fix these issues and hopefully be able to make challenges like these a thing of the past.