SEDRO-WOOLLEY – Driving to work on cold mornings, Doug Hutter sees school-age kids in T-shirts walking or waiting for the bus.
“I wonder if the kids I see even have a coat. I like getting coats on kids,” said Hutter, a member of the Knights of Columbus North Cross Council at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Sedro-Woolley.
Hutter’s council and other Knights of Columbus councils around the Archdiocese of Seattle have been giving warm coats to kids this fall as part of the Knights’ national Coats for Kids initiative. They raise money, then order coats for kids of all ages at a discount through the national council (which also provides some free coats), finally distributing them to kids in need in their local communities.
“It allows families to focus their resources on housing or food, while knowing their kids are warm and dry,” said Leo Zipp, grand knight of the Father John A. Walsh Council at St. Monica Parish on Mercer Island.
Earlier this fall, the St. Monica’s Knights delivered coats to the Eritrean Catholic Community in Seattle and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington’s Pregnancy and Parenting Support program based at St. Edward Parish in Seattle. They also donated coats to a nonprofit serving homeless children in the Puget Sound region.
“We can cut a check,” Zipp said, “but it’s really cool to see these kids holding up their coats and trying them on and to see the smiles on their faces.”
The need is great
This year, 45 Knights councils across the state participated in Coats for Kids, some two-dozen of those in the Archdiocese of Seattle.
“The first principle of the Knights of Columbus is charity,” said Roger Willis, state chairman of the program. “We take the corporal works of mercy very seriously.”
School districts across the state have many low-income families struggling to provide food and shelter, Willis said. “All districts have economic poverty, some more than others,” he said.
The Knights’ goal, he said, “is always to help needy children so they can get free coats to keep warm, dry and healthy during our lengthy, long and wet Washington winter.”
Knights of Columbus members from St. Monica Parish on Mercer Island deliver “Coats for Kids” to families participating in the Catholic Community Services Pregnancy and Parenting Support program based at St. Edward Parish in Seattle. Photo: Courtesy St. Monica Parish
Esteban Delgadillo, a member of Council 1327 at Vancouver’s Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, is also principal of Walnut Grove Elementary School in Vancouver and helps coordinate the coat distribution with the Vancouver School District.
“Each year, we are able to provide coats for our needy students and keep a few in reserve as loaner coats for students who forget their jackets or as replacements for those who either wear them out or lose them,” Delgadillo said in a news release. “This is a great program. It is much needed!”
Each council raises money to purchase the coats in different ways. Some rely on a big donor, but most hold fundraisers that are designed to build awareness and connect their parish communities — like family dinners at St. Monica, a car show organized by the council at St. Columban Parish in Yelm and the Beer and Brats event hosted by the council at the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver.
The hard work of fundraising brings great rewards.
“The material item of a coat going directly to a mother, or a father, or a child, is highly satisfying,” Zipp said. “Being able to physically connect our gifts to the recipients is huge for us. There’s a lot of joy that comes from that.”
The feeling is mutual.
For families who receive the coats, “it is great to see the community cares about them and their children,” said Julisa Aguilar, a manager for the Pregnancy and Parenting Support program.