Warm the Children continues thanks to community support

Staff Writer
Published: 11/19/2020 5:15:06 PM
Modified: 11/19/2020 5:14:56 PM

GREENFIELD — Each year the Warm the Children clothing drive is supported by local donors, some of whom see it is a way to pay back the support they received from their community.

Constance “Connie” Clarke of Shelburne Falls has been contributing to the Warm the Children fundraiser for a handful of years now.

“I became sensitive to giving like this after my daughter and I had a serious house fire in 1999,” Clarke said.

The fire burned the entire top floor of their log house in Shelburne Falls, and the two lived in a mobile home in the driveway for six months while repairs took place.

“That whole experience, and how the community reached out to us, and made sure we had clothes and food … It taught me a lot, it taught me to be thankful,” Clarke said. “To this day, I’ll come across a piece of clothing and remember the person who gave it to me.”

Every year Clarke contributes to the Warm the Children clothing drive as a way to pay back and reaffirm her sense of community. She said she felt blessed to live in Franklin County, where there is a strong sense of commitment to that community. This time of year, especially as some parents are out of work due to the lasting COVID-19 pandemic, children are in need of warm clothing.

“If you’ve ever seen a child’s face when they put on a new coat, well, it’s pretty awesome,” Clarke said.

How Warm the Children works

Over the past few decades, the Warm the Children fundraiser has grown to provide new coats and clothes to 900 children from Franklin County and the North Quabbin region each year, raising approximately $90,000 to cover the expenses annually.

“It’s a great program — all that money goes to kids that need it,” said organizer Pat Maleno, business manager for the Greenfield Recorder, Athol Daily News and Daily Hampshire Gazette.

In planning for this year’s drive, Maleno said organizers were met with two main challenges. First, Wilson’s Department Store closed earlier this year. The store had traditionally ordered clothes and set up the clothing distribution at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. This left organizers with the task of finding a new partner.

Also, the pandemic has created some difficulty in connecting with potential vendors and donors, as many people are working from home or are out of work entirely.

The plan is for the Recorder to partner with a local retailer, to be determined, and for vouchers to be issued for each qualifying child, ages 1 to 12 years old, to purchase children’s clothing.

Warm the Children recipients are suggested by various social service agencies and community organizations. Community Action Pioneer Valley’s Early Education Coordinator Katelyn Mailloux-Little is helping to organize this year’s fundraiser. The nonprofit coordinates the referral process. Organizers will establish a plan for delivery or pickup for beneficiaries.

Many community volunteers also help Warm the Children by holding their own fundraisers. Local civic groups and businesses join in the effort, both by making donations and by organizing further fundraising efforts.

All newspaper advertisements, and many fundraising costs, are donated by the Recorder.

‘What better thing could you do?”

Rowe couple Gordon and Diane Cowie moved to the local area from Danvers several years ago. Diane said they first learned of the Warm the Children fundraiser two years ago, but it was one they were instantly drawn to because of its local focus. The Cowies said they recognized the need for winter clothing during the cold winters in Western Massachusetts.

“We saw it and thought we had to participate,” Diane said. “What better thing could you do?”

Upon learning Wilson’s Department Store had closed this past spring, Robert and Andrea Moorhead said they were glad to hear the Warm the Children drive was continuing this year. Andrea said they have contributed to the clothing drive annually since moving to Greenfield from Deerfield roughly six years ago.

“We feel very strongly that children should be comfortable, safe and secure,” Andrea Moorhead said. “Warm the Children gives them physical comfort and security as the weather gets colder. And it relieves parents of the burden of cost for winter clothes when they have other needed expenses.”

Andrea Moorhead, a former French and Latin teacher, and Robert, a former arts architecture and design teacher, both retired from Deerfield Academy. As former educators, Robert said, they were drawn to the fact that Warm the Children helps children.

“As soon as we saw the word children we knew it was an important fundraiser,” he said.

While the pandemic has caused many to experience job loss and economic insecurity, creating even greater potential for families in need this winter season, Robert said he felt the annual Warm the Children drive has “always been important.”

In addition to the local cause, the Moorheads provide contributions to support multiple poetry archives in New York, Indiana and Montreal, Canada. They also support the local nonprofit Franklin Country Land Trust Inc., and a land trust in Maine.

Clarke said she and a friend have signed up to serve food during the Stone Soup Kitchen’s Thanksgiving meal in Greenfield this year. Beyond that, Clarke has been making contributions to other local organizations each month since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It just makes me feel like we’re going to get through this,” Clarke said.

Surely, if others follow the example set by Clarke and others, the Franklin County and North Quabbin community will get through.

Donations to Warm the Children, which are tax-deductible, are placed in a special account overseen by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

Anyone who would like to send tax-deductible donations may address them to The Greenfield Recorder: Warm the Children, P.O. Box 1367, 14 Hope St., Greenfield, MA 01302.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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