While the month of December signifies nights filled with hot cocoa and warm toes by the fire for many Turlock residents, some families dread the colder months as they cannot afford a coat for their child to protect them from the harsh winter weather. For the past 34 years, Westside Ministries has made it their mission to provide for these families through their annual coat drive.
What originally began as a coat drive for Turlock students in need has evolved over the years, going from around 80 to 100 coats being donated in the event’s first year to the drive now receiving hundreds of coats annually. The event has now even grown to include children from southern Stanislaus County and northern Merced County, with cities and towns from Delhi to Ceres reaping the benefits of the charitable drive.
“I think that it’s always a blessing to see how many people want to be involved,” Westside Ministries Communications Director Sunshine Sakuda said. “It’s awesome to see the community come together, whether it’s the east or the west side of Turlock, and see that they can unify to fulfill that need.”
Westside Ministries founder JoLynn DiGrazia was inspired to create a coat drive after the tragic death of 11-year-old Becky Valencia — an attendee of Westside Ministries’ Bible Club for kids, whose lack of a winter coat led to a sickness she never recovered from. She would have turned 42 this year.
“That really put it on JoLynn’s heart that kids in the west side need to have a coat,” Sakuda said.
Last year, thanks to help from multiple organizations throughout the city, Westside Ministries was able to help 1,000 children through its annual coat drive and an additional 200 parents. During the organization’s distribution days, children received a hot meal, a toy, a coat and even a haircut if they wanted one.
In years past, the drive has been known as “Coats 4 Kids.” This year, however, some unexpected changes to the drive required a new name for the event: Westside Ministries Coat & Toy Drive. Typically, the Turlock Post Office helped out with the collection of toys for the coat distribution event, picking them up from the doorsteps of community members who have decided to donate. This year, however, the postal service is unable to collect toys for the ministry as the post office’s corporate headquarters deemed it to be unethical.
Last year, the Turlock Post Office collected around 2,000 toys, Sakuda said, but Westside Ministries is optimistic that the community will make up for the lost service through on-site donations at locations where they can also drop off coats.
“It’s not going to affect the coat drive — it’s just going to give us another task to complete as we prepare,” Sakuda said. “God’s been faithful all these years whether we needed more coats or toys or food, so we just have to get the word out.”
Coats and toys can be dropped off at 10 locations throughout Turlock, including all three F & M Bank locations (121 S. Center St., 2340 Geer Road, 3700 Geer Road), Plett Optometry (1001 Colorado Ave.), BB Prints It (1435 Ellerd Drive), Carr’s Cleaners (500 E. Main St.), Scenic Oaks (321 E. Main St.), Westside Ministries (950 Columbia St.), Monte Vista Chapel (1619 E. Monte Vista Ave.), Suddenly Perfect (415 E. Olive Ave. #2), Adrian’s Beauty College (1340 W. Main St.) and Body Best Fit (805 S. Kilroy Road #855).
According to Sakuda, Westside Ministries is especially in need of coats in sizes 18 months through youth extra large. Items that don’t quite fit the requirements of a coat, such as hoodies or sweaters, will be available for adults to sift through as children receive their coats and toys during the event’s distribution days, scheduled for 3:30 to 6 p.m. Dec. 12 through 14.
“We hope to make sure that children of all ages, even adults, can get a coat for the winter in the Central Valley,” Sakuda said.