Boy Scouts collect 1,000 coats for needy

Friends of Carpenter sorts, helps distribute

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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photoCheryl Payne, a volunteer staff member with Friends of the Carpenter, is surrounded by racks of donated coats and jackets that were collected by Scouts on Jan. 5.

(/The Columbian)

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If you've been challenged by an overflowing closet, consider 1,000 coats and jackets -- all balled into plastic bags and piled in a mound.

That was Cheryl Payne's challenge a few days ago.

"I loved it," Payne said. "That's because of how many people this helps."

Those donated coats and jackets are in the workshop of Friends of the Carpenter, a Vancouver nonprofit that's the middleman in a winter charitable effort. They arrived Jan. 5, thanks to an annual Boy Scout project.

As the members of Clark County's troops and packs held their Christmas tree roundup, Scouts and volunteers in the Columbia Gorge District — east of Interstate 205, basically — also collected coats and jackets that had been bagged up and left on the front porch.

"We connected the idea of a coat drive with the tree drive," said John Perkins. Perkins and Jesse Villafranca organized the coat drive in 2011 as members of Boy Scout Troop 462.

They were going through their neighborhoods anyway, collecting discarded trees, so adding the coat drive made sense.

It also was timely, the Scouts figured, since many people clean their closets after Christmas, creating space for clothing they received as gifts.

This is the second year the Scouts have partnered with Friends of the Carpenter, said Perkins, a 19-year-old Clark College student.

The Friendship Center, 1600 W. 20th St., made a handy drop-off spot, because there is enough room to organize the coats and jackets.

And Friends of the Carpenter has a lot of other friends among local nonprofits and churches who can distribute coats to the people who need them.

"We will get the coats to the Salvation Army, FISH, Open House Ministries, Council for the Homeless," and other agencies, said the Rev. Duane Sich, Friends of the Carpenter executive director.

"We hope to get them out as soon as possible," Sich said. In the middle of January, "having a warm coat is pretty critical."

Payne, a volunteer staff member with Friends of the Carpenter, was among those who have been sorting the donations. They made sure the garments were usable, separated them into men's, women's and children's apparel, and hung them on racks that sagged under the weight of the coats and jackets.

"They've all been nice," Payne said.

Some jackets were brand-new, arriving with store tags still attached --which led to another task.

"We cut the tags off," said Jay Kitchin, the Friends' activities coordinator. The charities want recipients to wear those coats -- not take them back to the store for a cash refund.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.