Oakdale nonprofit collects winter coats for children in need

Grandma’s Coats for Kids, an Oakdale-based nonprofit, collects coats and other winter outerwear and distributes them to children in need at L.C. Webster, Richardson and Cowern elementary schools. submitted photo

Grandma’s Coats for Kids, an Oakdale-based nonprofit, collects coats and other winter outerwear and distributes them to children in need at L.C. Webster, Richardson and Cowern elementary schools. submitted photo

When Oakdale resident Kay Weber thinks of her childhood, she fondly remembers her grandmother purchasing her a warm coat each fall before the next brutal Minnesota winter. Now a grandma herself, she tries to make sure that children at local elementary schools have the winter coats they need.

At the end of October 2015, Weber distributed coats to Cowern and L.C. Webster elementary schools. Last year, she added Richardson Elementary School to the mix. The nonprofit, Grandma’s Coats for Kids, is now in its third year.  

“I had been retired for a few years, and I felt that I was ready to do something, and I wanted to do something worthwhile,” Weber remembers from when she started the nonprofit.

“Soon, hopefully, we can take on all of District 622,” she adds.

Weber explains that it wasn’t until after she started Grandma’s Coats for Kids that she realized how great the need is in the local elementary schools for winter coats. She said she was also shocked to find that homelessness is so prevalent in the school district.

Each year since starting the nonprofit, Weber and six others who help run the organization have collected donated coats between May and October. Weber and her granddaughter often spend the summer going together to garage sales and thrift stores looking for coats to supplement those that are donated. 

Weber says she started off collecting only coats, but soon snow pants, hats, mittens and scarves were added to the list. 

Although she doesn’t make a point of seeking out winter boots, she says staff from area elementary schools have expressed a need for them.

Weber also adds that boys’ jackets — especially in larger sizes like 12, 14 and 16 — are also in high demand.


Poverty and

 homelessness in 

District 622

At Cowern Elementary School about half of the students receive free or reduced priced lunches. At Richardson Elementary School that number jumps up to about 70 percent and at Webster Elementary School it is as high as 90 percent. District 622 staff estimate there are more than 140 homeless students throughout the district schools.

Britni Welle is a social worker who shares her time between Webster and Richardson elementary schools, and in that role she gives support to students and their families and helps break down the barriers that block students’ success in school.

She explains that there is always a need in these schools for winter outerwear, especially because students can’t go outside for recess without being dressed for the weather. Although Welle cannot identify how many families in either school might be homeless, she says Webster and Richardson are the two schools in the district that require the most assistance. 

“We have a number of families who have reached out to us to help connect them with various community resources,” says Jenna Peters, principal of Richardson Elementary. “That said, we also know that there are also a number of families who are doubled up in homes or may be living in shelters that don’t necessarily reach out for help with access to resources, so while we know for sure we have families who are homeless, we also know that there is a high likelihood that there are more out there.”

Dr. Jennifer Wilson, principal of Cowern Elementary School, adds that homelessness is present among Cowern students as well, noting that during the 2016-2017 school year about 20 students or 4 to 5 percent of the student population were known to be homeless, but she clarifies the term ‘homeless’ applies to several situations.

“Homeless is a term that is used to define families living in a variety of different living situations and doesn’t just mean they are ‘out on the street,’” Wilson says, adding, for example, it could refer to a situation where multiple families are living in one location.

Wilson says teachers are often the first people to notice when a student doesn’t have warm clothes for winter. Teachers will then contact the school social worker for help finding some of those items and getting them to that student.

“We also have many unique circumstances that have led families to reach out to us about concerns with meeting basic needs, so we do our best to provide services outside of what may be traditionally offered by a public school,” Wilson says, and adds that in addition to Grandma’s Coats for Kids, Cowern is also partnered with a local church, which helps provide clothing, food, school supplies and other necessities.


Meeting the need

According to Wilson, information about Grandma’s Coats for Kids goes out to all Cowern families in a bi-weekly newsletter, although school staff also reach out to specific families they think could benefit from the program.

“There is always a smile on our students faces when they receive a new coat,” Wilson says.

At both Richardson and Webster, Welle says that she and other teachers at the schools also reach out to children and families and distribute fliers, so those with the need are aware of Grandma’s Coats for Kids as well as the other programs available to them such as the Weekend Backpack Program and knit hats, mittens and scarves donated for students.

“We try our best to eliminate the stigma of families in need reaching out for support by offering resources to our schools as a whole,” Welle explains.

Weber adds, in past years Richardson Elementary set up a special event to distribute winter clothes. At this event, the coats are displayed and families can ‘shop’ around for what they need. 

“It was a great turnout last year, and students were so happy and proud of their new coats,” Peters says of the ‘shopping’ event held at Richardson Elementary.

Webster School, by comparison, keeps them on hand for kids to take at recess time. 

“We all care a lot about our children and when their needs are taken care of, we know that they are better able to concentrate on learning here at school,” Welle says. 

“We feel our students are our community’s most precious resource and to see our community working together on their behalf is something for our community to be proud of.”

To learn more about Grandma’s Coats for Kids, visit www.grandmascoatsforkids.org. Coats and other outerwear are collected at Midwest Data, 2559 East Seventh Avenue in downtown North St. Paul.


Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com


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