As the temperature outside drops, Westside Ministries is hoping to provide coats for Turlock youth who may not have one to keep them warm this winter.
For the past 35 years, the nonprofit organization has hosted Coats 4 Kids — a new and used coat drive which has grown to serve hundreds of local children each year. Westside Ministries founder JoLynn DiGrazia was inspired to create a coat drive over three decades ago 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 44 this year.
In the event’s first year, between 80 and 100 coats were donated to the cause. The organization was able to reach almost 1,000 children last year and is hoping to do the same this year as the pandemic creates more need than ever.
“We’ve actually had people coming to Westside asking for coat drive tickets and asking when the distribution is,” Westside Ministries communications director Sunshine Sakuda said. “We’ve tried to do our best reaching out to schools, but the difference this year is that they can’t see the kids in person to give them ticket referrals for their families.”
Sakuda said the organization has noticed children they service still wearing short sleeves or sandals as they deliver meals to homes, and that coats will become even more crucial for the children as Westside Ministries closes for two weeks during the holidays. Their excitement at the prospect of owning a real coat thanks to the drive is priceless, she said, but she worried that not all who are in need would be reached.
Coats are typically distributed through teacher referrals, and Sakuda said families who are in need of a coat this year can reach out to their child’s school or to Westside Ministries directly. Those who are donating a used coat can drop it off at Carr’s Cleaners (500 E. Main St.) where the business washes and cleans Coats 4 Kids donations for free.
“We’ve seen a dramatic drop in temperatures and we still have kids coming to us in short sleeves or thin sweaters. We’re trying to reach out to all of those kids and get them coats as quickly as we can,” Sakuda said.
There are several drop-off locations throughout Turlock for new coats: Westside Ministries (950 Columbia St.), Monte Vista Chapel (1619 E. Monte Vista Ave.), Farm House (311 E. Main St.), F&M Bank (2340 Geer Rd or 121 S. Center St.), Suddenly Perfect (415 E. Olive Ave. #2), Plett Optometry (1001 Colorado Ave.), Valley Heritage Realty (400 E. Olive) and Harding Performance Bootcamp (825 S. Kilroy Rd.).
According to Sakuda, all donations are welcome but the drive is still in need of boys youth sizes 4T through 14/16. The coats will be distributed from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. from Dec. 15 through 18 via a drive-thru event at Westside Ministries, which has transformed into a winter wonderland for those who will be passing by in their cars.
The drive-thru Christmas spectacle will also be open to the public from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Dec. 20, and those who bring a coat or a toy to donate to Westside Ministries will be entered into a raffle.
“The kids have such a big need for warm clothes and just a warm coat — something to get them through while we’re closed for the next couple weeks,” Sakuda said. “We hope that the families will come through next week and we can help them as much as we can.”
For more information on how to donate a coat or how to receive a coat, contact Westside Ministries at 209-667-8593.