Knights of Columbus coat drive helps over 500 kids in Utah
By Christine Young

.- At least 225 people started lining up at 7:30 a.m. for the second-annual Coats-4-Kids for a noon distribution at the Saint Vincent de Paul dining hall Dec. 17. A few were turned away when the coats ran out.

"We gave away 200 coats and the hardest part is running out and turning people away," said Andy Airriess, Knights of Columbus State program director.

The Knights of Columbus also distributed 200 coats to children in need at Catholic Community Services’ Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank in Ogden, Utah Dec. 17. Knights councils also gave away about 200 coats across the state in Park City and Heber City the same day.

The Knights of Columbus approached Catholic Community Services of Utah last year because their organization had begun distributing new coats across the nation to children living in poverty in cold-weather cities.

"The Knights wanted to start the program in Utah, so in 2010 they distributed 300 coats to children at St. Vincent dining hall," said Lauren McCarty, public relations and marketing representative at Catholic Community Services. "That was a central location for all the kids in need, but it was not practical."

Catholic Community Services of Utah was happy to partner with the Knights of Columbus again this year because there is so much need locally, said McCarty. "The coats were given away on a first-come, first-served basis and the children had to be present with a parent to receive a coat. CCS programs identified the families or single parents with children who were in need and let them know about the distribution date. Unfortunately, the number of families with children keeps increasing."

Dennis Kelsch, Catholic Community Services of Utah Basic Needs Services director, agreed there are more families with children in need this year. "In recent months, CCS has been serving meals each day in our dining hall to an additional 200 to 300 individuals and families with children," he said. "Receiving a new coat is such a wonderful gift to our families whose children rarely get new items."

The Knights of Columbus realize that many families are struggling to make ends meet, said Airriess. "We wanted to donate the coats so these children in need could make it through the winter in Utah, as well as take the burden off their parents."

Knight of Columbus councils across the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah held fundraisers to collect coats in sizes 2-18 to be given away as holiday gifts.

"The response from the Knights to participate in Coats-4-Kids was amazing," said Ray Lopez, State Deputy for the Knights of Columbus of Utah. "Receiving a coat can make such a difference in the lives of these children. We see them coming for a coat in their pajamas, wrapped in a blanket to stay warm or wearing thin hoodies and it is disheartening. Then they walk out with a coat and the expression on their faces changes to one of happiness."

"The look on the children’s faces as well as the parent’s faces is priceless because they are so appreciative," said Airriess. "This could be the first new piece of clothing they have ever received and the feeling is fantastic."

Coats-4-Kids was initiated by the Supreme Council in New Haven, Conn., three years ago for children in need in the United States and Canada, said Airriess. "The Supreme Council buys the coats and last year gave away about 40,000 coats. We buy the coats from our Supreme Council. This year the need doubled. Coats will also be given away at Saint Francis Xavier Parish in Kearns and at the Cathedral of the Madeleine at a later date."

Printed with permission from Intermountain Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah.

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