Bertha's Blog: Coats for Colorado

Nov. 2, 2007

Coats for Colorado is in its 26th year and in that time the coat drive has provided more than one and a half million coats to people in Colorado; 80, 000 coats were distributed last year.

But before we reach the point of being able to give away coats to the families and individuals who need them and can’t afford to buy them, there has to be a concerted effort to collect the coats.

We receive so many different types: windbreakers, fleece pullovers, raincoats, and jean jackets. Everything is welcome and the people who come to get a free coat will take whatever you generously offer them out of the goodness of your heart. But the point of the coat drive is to provide warm, winter coats that will get children, teenagers, the elderly, women and men through the severe winters that descend on our state. What we really need are coats sewn of thick, dense fabric like wool, puffy parkas filled with down or fiberfill, and snowsuits you can zip onto a baby.

We’re so happy to accept your hand-me-downs and extend their useful life by passing them along to someone else, but you should see how ecstatic we get when we receive those heavy-duty coats that have years of good use still in them! We get excited because we know from experience how pleased people on the receiving end will be. You don’t forget the bright eyes of the children with a good looking coat to wear to school like all the other kids. You don’t forget the shy demeanor of a proud man who humbly accepts something warm to wear on the job so he can provide for his family. You don’t forget the broad smile of woman who gets a coat to replace the blanket she wore in, because there was never enough money left over in the family budget for her to get a coat.

These moments are made possible because our community embraces neighbors in need. Our last collection in Highlands Ranch was successful because people are so willing to help. Representatives from Goddard Middle School showed up first thing in the morning with 500 coats! We had to send the van to the nearest Dependable Cleaners location to drop them off, to make room for more. A Girl Scout troop arrived with a bunch of coats. And dozens of individuals came with coats by the armload.

And the business community at Highlands Ranch Town Center offered camaraderie and support in various ways. The Old Blinking Light had hot cocoa on hand to get us started and the folks at Fat Burger gave all the volunteers lunch “on the house.”

Recycling coats just makes sense. Dependable Cleaners had the foresight not just to recognize a problem but do something about it. We’re on board as broadcasters with a large platform to help spread the word to our viewers. And you play a vital role when you hear the call for help and respond wholeheartedly by going through your closet and pulling out the coats that no longer fit you or your family members. Maybe you have a coat that’s no longer appropriate for you because of its fit or style. Remember, we can give it new life by finding someone who would just love to have it.

Sometime people are in a position to donate new coats. Those are, of course, most welcome. If you’re going to shopping for coats to donate, please, keep in mind that the greatest need is for children’s coats and men’s coats in the extra large sizes.

Our next collection will be at Flatirons Crossing Mall in Broomfield. We'll be in the valet parking area on Saturday, November 3rd from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

I hope you'll be able to join us.

Oct. 8, 2007

Years ago, over lunch, I remember listening to my friend Warren Toltz tell me about his project, Coats for Colorado. Warren owned a dry cleaning business, Dependable Cleaners, and we served together on the Board of Directors of NCCJ, a national human relations organization. I remember how excited he was as he explained that his company recycled coats that people no longer needed to others who really did need a coat.

Coats for Colorado is now in its 26th year and to date more than one and a half million coats have been donated and distributed.

For the past ten years, Coats for Colorado has operated as a 501(c)(3) organization. That provision of the federal tax laws means donations made to Coats for Colorado are exempt from federal income taxes and people who donate coats are allowed to take a charitable tax deduction.

When you donate a new or gently used coat at one of 30 Dependable Cleaners locations in the Denver Metro area or at special collection sites, you're given a receipt. You fill in the value of the coat. If you don't know what the coat is worth, consult with your tax advisor for help in setting the value of what you've donated.

Through decades of collecting and distributing coats, Stephen Toltz, Warren's son and now the third generation owner of Dependable Cleaners, tells me that people have been consistently generous, but that 2003 broke records. That's the year "Coats" partnered with KMGH Channel 7 and 110,000 coats were collected and distributed.

What happens to all those coats? They go to more than 120 non-profit organizations. He tells me that any coats that aren't needed in the Denver Metro area are picked up by the Redistribution Center, which takes them to the Western Slope, where they are given away in Grand Junction and other communities.

In special cases, such as with Hurricane Katrina and a terrible freeze, years ago, in Chicago, coats collected here in Colorado have been trucked out of state.

Steven tells me that one of the ways Dependable Cleaners is unique is that his father, Warren, was an early and enthusiastic advocate of recycling. At its core, Coats for Colorado is a recycling effort. Finding someone new to wear a gently used but no longer needed coat makes perfect sense for a dry cleaning company that also recycles hangers, plastic bags, and safety pins.

Hangers that customers bring in get reused or melted down to be made into new hangers. Plastic bags get baled and are sent away to be melted for colored bags. And pins simply get used again as pins. Recycling is so much a part of the company's culture, that recycling bins are built into every new store. But nothing matches the gratification of knowing you'll help someone stay warm this winter by reusing a coat.

The recycling may have its drawbacks in the initial investment involved and ongoing time commitment, but is there a business benefit? Consider the community recognition. Dependable Cleaners was named "Outstanding Large Business” on National Philanthropy Day in 2001.

The coat campaign falls into the category of community based marketing. By giving back to the community that you live and work in, the company gets a marketing benefit. Steven says, "Our family business has been around for 77 years, but Coats for Colorado put Dependable Cleaners on the map."

He explains that the coats campaign translates into name recognition for his company, of course, but the most important purpose is to bring warm coats to the needy, to see them through Colorado's cold months. And after the blizzards we endured this past winter, no one will accuse Steven of exaggerating when he says, "There's no question coat donors may have saved someone's life."

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