Just in time for the holidays, Westside Ministries is making sure those in need stay warm through its annual Coats 4 Kids drive and is still in need of donations.
Last year, the nonprofit provided nearly 700 area children with new coats, warm clothes and toys as part of the event, which has helped make Christmas delightful in spite of the frightful weather for over 35 years. 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 45 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 in 2019 and has seen an increased need throughout the pandemic. Coats are typically distributed through teacher referrals, and families who are in need of a coat this year can reach out to their child’s school or to Westside Ministries directly.
In 2020, it was harder to reach families in need as students were on distance learning and away from their teachers. This year, names of students in need continue to roll in from different schools, and the organization also hopes to help Afghan refugee families who are in need nearby.
“The need is still so significant,” DiGrazia said. “We serve anybody, and we don’t want any child to miss school because they don’t have a coat or a meal in their belly. Turlock gets that and always supports this cause.”
Westside Ministries will provide families with coats, clothing, a meal and a toy during the Coats 4 Kids event, which will once again be held as a drive-thru this year. About 400 children have pre-registered, but the organization is anticipating hundreds more to show up on the days of the drive.
The organization is still in need of children and teen-sized coats, new or used, as well as warm clothes (like sweat outfits) for children of all ages. Sizes that are most-needed include those from 5/6 to 18/20. There is also a need for new children’s toys, DiGrazia said,
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. New coats can be dropped off at Westside Ministries (950 Columbia St.) and those who would like to donate monetarily can give to the organization’s Venmo account, @westside-ministries.
“Our community does a beautiful job at recognizing a need and recognizing how to help and finding what they can do,” DiGrazia said. “There’s always been that feeling in Turlock that no one will be left behind.”
The Coats 4 Kids drive-thru event will take place daily from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Dec. 15 through 17 at Westside Ministries. For more information on how to donate or how to receive a coat, contact the organization at 209-667-8593.