Steve Smith and Coats for Communities keep Charlotte County residents warm

ST.STEPHEN – Three-years-ago, Steve Smith took a business administration course at New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) St. Andrews Campus that changed his life and the lives of many in the area. Smith and his classmates were in charge of streamlining Coats for Kids, a program which provided winter garments for area children. The college had been administering the program for more than a decade, and the class project was to make it easier for people to carry-out the work as time went on.

Smith enjoyed collecting coats for those who could benefit from them. In fact, he liked it so much he signed-on for the next 10 years. Smith, who grew up in the area, says he wanted to “give back to the community” and be a good example for his grandchildren. Smith refuses to believe anyone, especially children, should be without warm winter wear.

“It’s 2021, and 2021 in Canada,” says Smith, “no one should be in that position”. Now called Coats for Communities, and serving a broader client base, this year 300 new or gently used coats were donated, up from 250 in 2020, and 200 the yearbefore.

Smith cites community support as being key to the success of the program. The college, St. Croix Auto, The Saint Croix Courier and Charlotte FM help get the word out during the collection period. Coats are dropped-off at various donor sites including St. Croix Auto St. Stephen where Smith works, Giant Tiger, and Milltown Market in St. Stephen, Uncle Mayn’s Convenience Store in St. George, and NBCC St. Andrews. Once collected, Smith takes the coats to the Algonquin Resort in Saint Andrews where they are washed and dried. “They do it all,” says Smith.

The next stop for the outerwear is the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County (VCCC) which arranges distribution. Donna Linton, coordinator at the VCCC, says the donation of the coats “means the world to us”. Linton invites people to get in touch with the centre or visit the facility at 199 Union Street, St. Stephen to find out how they might get a coat.

Some of the coats go to the St. Stephen Middle School. Tyler Yost, guidance counsellor, and Ann Dempsey, Grade Six teacher, have seen Coats for Communities make a vast difference. The school’s newly opened Bobcat Boutique serves students and members of the school’s community, offering them donated clothing in a cozy store-like setting. In its first few weeks, winter items, including those from Coats for Communities, have been popular among ‘shoppers’.

Yost attests the winter gear has “the biggest impact on immigrant families in the community”.

“Some of these people come from places where they have not needed winter gear before. They have been here a month and suddenly they need to spend $1,000 for jackets and boots. Programs like these,” Yost says, “help remove that burden.”

While Coats for Communities has finished collecting for the season, Smith and the program will be returning in full force next year, and a few more years after that to make sure that residents in the Charlotte County area are toasty and warm.