FAIRMONT — Prior to 2018, different Marion County agencies found themselves competing against each other when carrying out fall and winter coat drives to help those in need.
But then the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties started its Warm Coats, Warm Hearts drive that year, and condensed the different drives into one event and simplified the process.
“This is the third year that United Way has coordinated this in the county,” said Emily Swain, community impact director of the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties. “There used to be several different coat drives, but we thought maybe it would be easier for the agencies if we coordinated it, and then distributed the cold weather items.”
The Warm Coats, Warm Hearts drive takes place from Oct. 15 to Dec. 31, and the United Way will distribute the winter clothing it receives as donations are dropped off at several donation sites.
“We collect things the whole time and we give them to the agencies throughout the whole period,” Swain said. “We don’t hold on to them to the very end, because we know that it gets cold. So we’re getting them to the agencies as soon as we get them in.”
The donated items will help those in need who receives services from the Soup Opera, Friendship Fairmont, Connecting Link, the Salvation Army, HOPE Inc., Taylor County Collaborative Family Resources and the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center.
Swain also said multiple organizations are once again hosting collection bins for the drive, including BC Bank, the Town of White Hall, the Times West Virginian, the Disability Action Center, Cummins, Challenge Health and Fitness, Patton Insurance Group, and several of the receiving organizations.
“We have several locations this year,” Swain said. “Obviously with COVID-19, a lot of the public places that we used last year we had to modify, so this year we teamed up with the Marion County Public Library, so their locations in Fairmont, Fairview and Mannington will be open and have drop boxes.”
Connie VanGilder, program coordinator for the Marion County Public Library System, said the administrators of the library were happy to assist the United Way.
“The United Way is so good for our community,” VanGilder said. “We’re happy to work with them however we can. And as the library, we are in different communities, Fairmont, Mannington and Fairview, so that’s what we are all about — community.”
Because the library has not been able to offer as many services as usual because of the coronavirus pandemic, VanGilder said the coat drive is a good way to participate in a community-wide effort.
“That’s what the library is here for, is to help make connections,” VanGilder said. “It’s just another, more tangible way, and we are happy to do that.”
In addition to the drop-off boxes that will be in different community organizations, the United Way office just got its own donation bin installed, so people can drop off items any time they would like.
Swain recommends the donated items be new or gently-used, so they can still keep people warm over the winter.
“We want to make sure the items being passed onto the community are in good shape,” Swain said. “Anything anybody can give — we get kids’ jackets, adults’ jackets — it really runs the gamut of what we need. Anything that anybody has, that would be helpful or beneficial, or if it’s out of style but is still in good shape, we really just need everybody to participate.”
Swain said the drive has been successful the past two winters thanks to the support from community members, and she is anticipating getting similar aid this year. Now that the United Way covers two counties, she said she hopes to get more coats than ever before.
“Every year we have managed to grow the number of items that we have,” Swain said. “The need certainly isn’t decreasing; especially with us being in two counties it’s really important.”