The Williamstown Chamber of Commerce is taking over a coat drive that began 10 years ago and has collected more than 20,000 coats for those in need.
The coat drive had been handled by HFM Investment Advisors LLC, but due to COVID-19, it decided to cancel its participation.
“We will be able to help a certain population that still needs it, but on a smaller scale and reduce our COVID exposure,” said Councilwoman and Chamber of Commerce Chair Katherine Falcone.
Coat drive boxes can be found at the SOS Group Inc. office on Black Horse Pike, as well as the Sherman Williams store on Berlin Cross Keys Road.
“We are going to give those coats to the high school, which has a community closet,” Falcone said. “That way, those people can be warm. We still have people who need help during the holidays.”
The collected coats will go to the Brave Pantry at Williamstown High School, which is stocked by the nonprofit Lead the Way. The drive also accepts hats, gloves and scarves.
“It is something that we were identifying, a lot of kids that were in disadvantaged families or have come upon an unfortunate situation. These families didn’t have food or clothing or the resources that they needed,” said Lead the Way Vice President Deb DeFelice.
Lead the Way started more than five years ago, when Scott Whyte and DeFelice noticed a need in the community to help homeless and displaced children.
“Last year, we had the most homeless kids in Gloucester County; we had 60 homeless kids and displaced families,” DeFelice noted. “Once we saw that there was so much more that needed to be done in our own backyard, we needed to do something.”
The Brave Pantry enables people to donate food, clothes and toiletries to students and families in the community.
Lead the Way will also hold a “Stuff the Bus” event. According to DeFelice, there is a need for donations of bras, especially sports bras, and underwear, as well as deodorant, face wash and feminine hygiene products.
“Once we did this last year and families knew the pantry existed, people would just start dropping stuff off at the main office. It was a revolving door of donations,” DeFelice said. “It’s important that people know that we need to continue to help these families: It’s not getting any better.”
The chamber is unsure whether the drive will take place next year but hopes for a large response this season.