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Stephen Landry – Gardner News
Oct. 20, 2022

GARDNER – Hundreds of Chair City residents looking for an inexpensive way to keep warm this winter turned out for the Worcester County Sheriff’s annual coat drive on Wednesday, Oct. 12.

The annual drive, which delivers thousands of new winter jackets to those in need across Worcester County each year, traditionally kicks off its distribution season in Gardner, with a stop at the Gardner CAC and Alyssa’s Place Peer Recovery and Resource Center.

About 35 people stood in line next to the Gardner CAC as volunteers unloaded the first collection of coats from the back of a delivery truck and placed the bags behind several distribution tables. Those waiting to make their selections expressed gratitude for the program.

“Winter’s coming, so it’s always good to have extra coats and stuff for the kids,” said Tianna Caisse of Gardner.

“I lost my house, my job, and my car all in one week due to COVID,” said Mark Spaulding of Gardner. “That’s why I was so happy when I heard about (this program), because a winter coat is what I need mostly right now because everything I had got left in the house when I left it.”

Coat drive shows how community can work together

Sheriff Lew Evangelidis said it felt great to return to Gardner CAC, the location where his office’s annual coat drive began 10 years ago.

“(This) drive is an exemplary model of how a community should work together to address an issue,” Evangelidis said. “As recipients tell us, these coats represent so much more than a winter jacket, they represent a community that cares.”

The drive was on track to deliver over 4,000 coats this year, marking the largest distribution in the drive’s 10-year history, Evangelidis said.

Hundreds of residents at the Gardner CAC await a free winter coat at the annual drive on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
Julie Meehan, executive director of the Gardner CAC, said the coats distributed during the drive went directly to keeping members of the community warm during the winter months. She said she was grateful that the coats, which were typically delivered to the CAC in December, were being given out a few weeks earlier this year.

“Families have to plan the expense of a winter coat into their budget, so now they know that it’s all set and that’s one less expense they’ll have to figure out how to cover going into the heating season,” Meehan said, adding that several families had been looking forward to this year’s event.

“We started putting out the word to the families we serve in mid-September, and they were so excited, putting it in their calendars, and making sure they would be here to get a new coat,” she said.

Space was tight outside the CAC’s Pleasant Street building, with two trucks blocking access and limited parking spaces in the area. Mayor Michael Nicholson noted the crowded conditions and told those in attendance that next season’s event would be different.

“I’m looking forward to having this event again next year at our new CAC/Senior Center location down at the new community center over at Waterford Street School,” Nicholson said. “I think you can see right here, right now, we’re a little cramped for space where we are, so this will be a lot easier to do next year.”

Coats distributed at Alyssa’s Place

After handing out around 200 coats at the CAC, the coat drive moved its operations over to Alyssa’s Place, where officials said nearly 80 jackets were given away.

“We are grateful that we have such an awesome community, and that so many people are behind us, and they support our mission, they support our vision to help people who are at their lowest point get back up on their feet,” said Jackie Blanchard, program director at Alyssa’s Place.

Anyone in need of a winter coat was welcome to stop by Alyssa’s Place and pick one up, Blanchard said.

“They can absolutely come here, and they do not need to be a member,” she added.

The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office held its annual Winter Coat Drive collection event in Worcester on Oct. 6. The event raised thousands of dollars for the purchase of new coats from several sponsors, including St. Francis Community Health Foundation, Central One Federal Credit Union, and the WooSox Foundation.

The Sheriff’s Department’s coat drive will visit several nonprofit and community organizations across Worcester County until the event concludes on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

Gardner MA Coat Drive Worcester Sheriff Office

Hundreds of free winter coats are distributed to residents in need as part of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office’s Annual Winter Coat Drive at the Gardner CAC on Wednesday, Oct. 12.