Junior League of Greater Alton member Rhonda Brinkman knows first-hand the need for new and gently used coats. She is also a Riverbend Head Start teacher and saw more than a third of the children in her class did not have a winter coat. It inspired her to ask her fellow league members to support the Coats for Kids campaign.
ALTON – Rhonda Brinkman looked around her classroom and realized more than a third of the preschoolers did not have a winter coat because their families could not afford them. That moment is what prompted the Riverbend Head Start and Family Services’ teacher to act.
Brinkman is a provisional member of the Junior League of Greater Alton, and the provisional members were looking for a project to support. She pitched Riverbend Head Start and Family Services’ Coats for Kids campaign. Every fall, the agency collects new and gently used coats and distributes them to the impoverished infants, toddlers and preschoolers in its program. This year, 500 children needed a winter coat. It was a record amount.
“I have seen some of the children come to our centers with coats that are too small, not warm or have broken zippers,” Brinkman said.
“I knew the need was great, but I must admit I was shocked at the number,” Junior League of Greater Alton member Jolene Sherman said.
The members took on the project and distributed collection boxes at area businesses. They also cleaned out closets at their homes and tapped into their community connections, including their children’s schools. The principal at Evangelical Elementary agreed to let members spread the word to their students’ families.
“We sent fliers home to all the school families and the boxes began to fill up,” Sherman said. “The first time I went for a pick-up I couldn’t help but cry at the amount of coats collected. The support was tremendous.”
“Every time I pick up another bag of coats, I am speechless,” Brinkman said.
In addition to collecting coats, league member Lauri Sholar dipped into the digital space and set up a CrowdRise account to raise monetary donations.
“Cash provides flexibility and allows the agency to purchase coats in certain sizes that they may not have received through the coat donations,” Brinkman said. “It helps the agency meet more needs.”
The Junior League of Greater Alton gave a $500 gift to the project and members collected an additional $1,300. They also collected more than 200 new and gently used coats that were distributed to children.
“Every year, the Junior League of Greater Alton Provisional Members take on a project in our community. We are always proud of our members, but this group was exceptional and the impact they had on the Riverbend Head Start coat drive was astounding,” Junior League of Greater Alton President Emily Hejna said.
“This campaign would not have been a success without the Junior League’s partnership,” said Kristen Gosling, Riverbend Head Start and Family Service’s public relations director. "We have been touched by the outpouring of support from its members and the community.”
“I know we live in a giving community,” Brinkman said. “It’s heartwarming to know there are so many people who helped raise money that directly benefits the children in the program.”
The Junior League of Greater Alton is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable organization composed of women from the Alton area who are committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. For more information about joining The Junior League of Greater Alton, email your contact information to email@example.com.
Riverbend Head Start and Family Services is a nonprofit on a mission to empower children and families to develop positive skills to meet life’s challenges. Madison County families with children between the ages of birth through 5 and expectant mothers are eligible for the agency’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs if they live below the federal poverty line, have a child with a disability or are involved with the Division of Children and Family Services.