Coats for Cats to help warm the winter months

As winter takes hold, there's a growing need to ensure students have what they need to stay warm in the bitter cold. 

The Springfield Firefighters Local 333 has partnered with Los Mariachis and the Springfield High School football team to create Coats for Cats to collect and distribute coats and other winter-weather gear to kids in need.

"We do have a good number of families in our community that are at or below the poverty line and they're at need and at risk, and I think the help should come from right here within our own community," says Kevin Sanders, president of the Springfield Firefighters Local 333. "It's a good community builder, and it's a good way to allow people who want to do good things access to make a difference."

Starting Wednesday, Dec. 14, community members can donate new and gently used coats, hats, gloves and scarves to any of the collection locations: Los Mariachis, Fratelli's, O'Conners Irish Pub, COhatch Springfield, East High Barber Co., and Stella Bleu Bistro

Also on Wednesday, Dec. 14, Los Mariachis will host a Dine-to-Donate fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. For guests who provide a paper copy of the event flyer (see the Facebook event page), Los Mariachis will donate 20 percent of their meal purchase toward the donation drive. The funds will be used to purchase additional winter-weather gear. 

Individuals, organizations and businesses can also participate by donating to become an event sponsor or pledge sponsorship for next year's donation drive. Anyone interesed in donating or volunteering to help can contact Sanders at [email protected].

"Our goal is for any school-aged child in Springfield schools who needs a coat to be able to get a coat," Sanders says. "We know the staff, principals, counselors, school nurses and teachers all have the best idea of who's in need, and we're hoping they can help connect us to those students and families to invite them to a pickup night."

Donations will be accepted through Thursday, Dec. 22, and distribution will take place on Friday Dec. 23. 

Wildcats football players will be part of the donation drive by helping to promote the collection on social media, Sanders says. Team members will also be on-hand to help distribute the coats and other winter gear. 

"The football players will be at the pickup places to make those connections with the other students," he says. "This is about more than a coat, it's about friendships and connection and about younger kids looking up to older kids and the older kids taking care of the younger kids in that way. And that has a great feeling."

Sanders says the idea for the winter gear collection drive came about before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic itself pushed plans to the back burner for a bit. But with inflated costs hitting families hard this year, it felt like the right time to launch the drive and start what he hopes to make an annual event. 

Also, says Sanders, involving the football players allows them to be recognized not only for their athletic accolades, but also to showcase their commuity-minded spirit and the drive they have to showcase Springfield as an upstanding city. 

"We really want these kids to be recognized and to be seen," Sanders says. "They are crushing past stigmas of Springfield - these kids don't accept those ideas. So we want to give them a chance to really shine and show their dedication to our city."

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.