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By: Stephen Landry,  The Gardner News, December 8, 2021

GARDNER — After spending the past year collecting 3,600 new winter coats for the less fortunate in the community, employees with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office began to deliver their warm clothing.

Sheriff Lew Evangelidis and his team made two stops in Gardner on Dec. 7, stopping by the Community Action Committee and Alyssa’s Place to drop off clothing, which included coats, scarves, mittens and socks.

“The coats have a deep impact here in the Greater Gardner area,” said Julie Meehan, executive director of the CAC. “Often parents will forgo a winter jacket for themselves in order to provide one for their children. This generous donation ensures that all members of a family will be warm for years to come.”

Evangelidis, who said he is proud that it has become a tradition for his annual coat drive to officially kick off in the Chair City each year, said the lingering effects of the pandemic and a stagnant economy had made it a challenge for his office to collect warm clothing this year.

“When we looked to get this going again last year, because of COVID we couldn’t collect (used clothing), so we had to buy all brand-new coats, which meant a significant amount of fundraising,” he explained, adding that there were concerns that this year’s drive would turn out to be less successful. “But then somehow, some way, this community responded. We got our largest grant ever, and then the donations just kept on coming, and before we knew it we were over $60,000 and we were able to have one of our biggest coat drives ever.”

“We are so blessed that we can have access to (this clothing) so that we can give back to our community, and we know our community is very grateful for this opportunity,” said Jackie Morse, interim program director at Alyssa’s Place. “We’ve had a lot of need, honestly, we’ve had phone calls from people looking for winter coats, and this is just such a blessing.”

Meehan said she is happy that the CAC is traditionally the first stop when it comes time to deliver the coats that have been collected during each year’s coat drive.

“We’re seeing a lot more requests for warm clothing this year because the need is so great right now,” Meehan said. “Especially with (us) having such a reduced capacity to take clothing right (now) because of COVID, so it’s great knowing that we have brand-new coats that are ready to go out.”

Evangelidis said he is happy to be a part of such of a worthy cause each year.

“It’s amazing how many people just want to help,” he said. “(Julie and Jackie) do God’s work every day. It really just renews the spirit.”

The coat drive is held in partnership with St. Francis Community Health Foundation, Central Massachusetts Agency on Aging and the WooSox Foundation. Since launching on Nov. 10, this year’s coat drive has raised $61,000 through grants and donations — including a $20,000 grant from St. Francis Community Health Foundation.