Westside Ministries launched its annual Coats 4 Kids donations drive with a downtown dance party Thursday night in front of Carr's Cleaners. For over 30 years, the local nonprofit has collected winter coats for youth of all ages, with Carr's Cleaners serving as a drop off location and providing a free cleaning for each used coat donated.
"Over 30,000 coats have been donated over the years and there's never one left over," said Carr's Cleaners owner Harry Boucher.
Boucher said he got involved after hearing about the tragic death of 11-year-old Becky Valencia. Valencia, who attended Westside Ministries' Bible Club for kids, was often seen playing outside without a coat. One winter, she was playing with friends on the street when she collapsed. She was taken to the hospital and found to have meningitis. She never recovered.
The following winter Westside Ministries founder JoLynn DiGrazia started collecting coats for the kids of the westside who did not have one in Valencia's honor.
"I knew I had coats in my closet and figured others did too," said Boucher about his participation in the coat drive.
The Coats 4 Kids campaign provides approximately 1,000 kids each year with a much-needed winter coat, along with a new toy, a free haircut and a hot meal during the three-day event every December.
Through Dec. 11, members of the community can donate a used coat to Carr's Cleaners, 500 E. Main St., or a new coat directly to Westside Ministries, 950 Columbia St. Monetary donations for the purchase of new coats can be mailed to Westside Ministries at P.O. Box 354, Turlock, CA 95381. Donation bins will be located at businesses around town, including Lancaster Paint on Center Street and F & M Bank on Geer Road.
Sunshine Sakuda of Westside Ministries said that while they give coats to all ages, from babies through adults, they have the greatest need with youth sizes.
The ministry is also seeking donations of new toys and stylists willing to donate free haircuts.
Coats will be distributed to children from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 14-16. Westside Ministries distributes "tickets" to the free event to local schools to distribute to kids in need of winter coat. However, no child in need of a coat will be turned away, said Sakuda.For more information about the Coats 4 Kids program, call 667-8593.