Coat drive to combat the cold

Brian Padgett, manager at Taproom on 19th, collects winter coats for the Girard Estate Neighbors Association’s eight annual Winter Coat Drive. Photo/Mark Zimmaro.

As another chilly winter arrives in Philadelphia, a neighborhood group is ready to combat the cold in the form of its annual coat drive.

The Girard Estate Neighbors Association held its eighth annual Winter Coat Drive last week, collecting warm garments for men, women and children of all ages. It’s become a heart-warming tradition to help others escape the cold.

“It’s a wonderful event for our community to reach out and help everybody stay warm,” said Teresa Walker, who is a board member for GENA. “It’s been a hard couple of years. Helping out in the community whenever we can is one of our visions and part of our mission statement as well.”

The hub of all the hard work is the Taproom on 19th, which accepts donations in large plastic bins over a three-day period and acts as a meeting place for volunteers to sort and distribute the collected goods. It’s not the first time Taproom on 19th has helped spearhead the project or any of the other community initiatives that GENA drives.
“Every year this has been our host house, which is so nice,” said GENA President Jessica Frye. “It’s kind of a good gathering place anyway. People will walk by and realize that today is the drive and they come back with a coat. (Taproom) has never hesitated any time we’ve had an idea or an event. They jump right on it and not only offer space and resources but they also donate to our causes.”

In exchange for a donation, Taproom offered a beer, a glass of wine or a well cocktail as a thank you for each coat dropped off.

“We’ve always felt being a local establishment meant more than just making sure everyone gets their daily quota of delicious food and beer,” said Pete Fry, owner of Taproom on 19th. “We really appreciate GENA giving us the opportunity to help give back a little something to the neighborhood, as well as helping the less fortunate.”

Nearly 100 coats were collected this year. Men’s coats were donated to the Bethesda Project, which provides emergency shelter, housing and supportive services for thousands of individuals experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. Women’s and children’s coats were given to Maternity Care Coalition, which aims to improve the health and well-being of pregnant women and parenting families, and enhance school readiness for children ages 0-3.

“For the entirety of the drive, we’ve been benefiting the same two agencies and this was the first year they reached out to us and asked when the drive was, so they’ve learned to look forward to it, which is really nice,” Frye said.  

GENA President Jessica Frye hangs signs promoting the organizations’s eighth annual Winter Coat Drive. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

That’s because the number of donations from GENA keeps getting bigger and bigger. Last spring’s annual food drive produced 500 pounds of food for Philabundance. 

“This year we piled the boxes in the basement of the library and weighed them one-by-one on my bathroom scale and met the 500-pound goal,” Frye said. “They picked it up and off it went.”

The global pandemic has affected the welfare of residents locally, and the local neighborhoods have responded with a higher level of support.

“It’s more magnified,” Frye said. “It was our most successful food drive ever last spring. We got 500 pounds for the first time ever just by drive-by donations.”

As GENA’s drives keep getting bigger and many of the same people donate year after year, there was a little concern that a dip in donations could arrive. But all those involved simply won’t let it fail.

“It brings us so much joy to host this event every year, especially around the holidays,” Frye said. “It’s such a simple thing for us to do but could mean the world to a neighbor in need. With each passing year we’ll often wonder, is this the year that we don’t receive a lot of donations? You’d think eventually, our closets will be cleaned out, or perhaps, that someone may give and then not feel the need to give the following year. But it hasn’t happened. It continues to be an annual success for Girard Estate Neighbors Association. Somehow every year, people find ways to keep giving.”