More than just a coat


It’s winter in Minnesota. Along with the chilling weather comes the season of seeing exhaust rushing from vehicles’ tailpipes, bundling up from head to toe, endless shoveling and watching eagerly for plows to clear the streets. For those of us who have lived in Minnesota a while and have experienced the winter months, we know how brutal it can be. Here in Minnesota winter lasts for several months, bringing regular below-freezing temperatures, snow and ice mixes; making the conditions unforgiving.

That is why it is so important to keep protected from the elements. Many families who are new to Minnesota or don’t have the means necessary to afford or have access to the proper winter clothing need help, and that’s where winter clothing giveaways take action.

Neighborhood House has been running a Winter Gear Drive and Distribution for over a decade now. Each year we see there is a need, but this year has been different. With the rise of unsheltered people and increased numbers of individuals and families who are living in poverty in St. Paul the need is greater than ever before.

“I believe the need is greater. I think the fact that food and housing prices are going up is causing families to be more strapped for cash.” – A Neighborhood Staff Member

Thankfully, many individuals have stepped forward this year to give, and fill that need. This year we have seen organizations and individuals running their own drives to support the Neighborhood House drive, we’ve received anonymous donations dropped off and mailed into the Wellstone Center and also individuals who gave for special or personal reasons.

One individual, Genesia Williams, donated several new items and said that she felt compelled to encourage others to give by sharing a post on Facebook.

Part of her post read: “So, if you remember last year was the first time I ever had a proper winter coat and winter boots at the same time. I just made a donation to this winter gear drive. If you can, please bring (quality) items for donation. With a focus on larger adult sizes, and winter boots if you can.”

For Genesia, this drive and its importance was personal, which is why she urges people to give. Growing up, her family had received winter coats from winter clothing drives just like this one

“When I was a kid, we needed help,” she said. “I grew up in poverty and despite my family working hard and having support there wasn’t really ever enough to have all the things we needed.”

Sharing about the Winter Gear Drive was simply something Geneisa felt like “she had to do.”

Growing up under-resourced and working hard to break through the income barrier as an adult, she was in a position this year where she could help others who share a similar story to hers.

“I was over 30 years old the first time I had a proper winter coat, boots, gloves, hat, etc. all at the same time,” Genesia said. “It’s expensive to be poor/working class. We often have to put important things on the back-burner because we have more pressing concerns to deal with. There never seems to be enough money to go around. By sharing and by giving, since I was in a position to do so this year, I hope that at least one person who needs winter gear has one less thing to be concerned about.”

Genesia said that even though she didn’t have any extra winter coats of her own to give away, she was in a place financially where she could purchase new coats and winter items to support the drive.

“Being in a more secure financial situation and also loving to shop, I found some great seasonal sales that allowed me to grab brand new items to donate,” she said. “Doing it that way isn’t an option for everyone, but I wanted to share a pragmatic, creative way to show up.”

Neighborhood House began collecting winter coats in October and began distributing to program participants in December, with more distributions taking place through January and February. Together, with the help of donors and volunteers, Neighborhood House has been able to distribute approximately 711* items in 2021.

*Distribution numbers as of December 21, 2022