Twenty years and 35, 000 coats later, First Presbyterian Church Spartanburg is still striving to keep Spartanburg County school children warm. Begun as an initiative of the church’s Peace and Justice Committee in 1995, the program originally focused on distributing shoes and gently used coats. During the second year 783 pairs of shoes and 200 coats were distributed yet there was a desire to reach a larger number of children and to meet more specific needs.
Over time, a well-organized, comprehensive identification and distribution system has been developed and now every year the church gives between 1,400 and 1,900 children a new winter coat at an annual cost of roughly $50,000. The process begins in August when elementary and middle school counselors in all seven school districts are asked to identify their students who may need a new coat. Those counselors work diligently to ensure that children in need are served.
Every identified child has a coat ordered specifically for him/her. For at least seventeen years, Belk, Inc. has been partnering with First Presbyterian to provide the coats at a reasonable cost. The project is funded through donations by First Presbyterian Church members and others throughout the community. For a gift of $35.00 donors can honor a loved one, provide a gift in memory of someone or simply have the pleasure of giving a child a new coat for the cold winter.
On Winter Warmth Distribution Day parents and children begin lining up in by 7:00 am eager to “shop” for a new coat. Hundreds of First Presbyterian members as well as other volunteers from throughout the community walk each child through the aisles of hundreds and hundreds of coats allowing each one of them to be “fitted” and to select just the right style and color. It is a happy day and almost every child proudly leaves the building dressed in style for cold weather.
The scriptures have guided this work for the past twenty years, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:14-17.
Winter Warmth is a reflection of Christ’s love in the world.
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Shannon Stewart // email@example.com