A great way to volunteer your time during the winter is to organize a coat drive. I had one last year and it was very successful: I was able to donate over 60 coats to Homes for the Homeless, an organization that assists homeless families in NYC. Through the process, I learned some do’s and don’ts for hosting a coat drive…
Before you start collecting, you may need to get permission from your landlord, boss, or whoever else may be in charge of the space where you intend to put a coat drive box. I live in a building that has a co-op board and building manager, all of whom had to approve a written proposal that I was asked to submit. I also collected coats at work, and so I needed my managers to give me the okay, since it would undoubtedly lead to (and it did), a large number of coats sitting around for a few days in the office. Some of the questions you should be prepared to answer:
-Where do you intend to store the coats after the box fills up?
-What do you intend to do with coats not suitable for donation?
-Where are you donating the coats?
The answers will vary from person to person, but just be prepared for someone to be annoyed with you and your box full of donations. There is always someone who will rain on your giving parade.
If you plan on having the donation box in your home, be careful where you are advertising your drive: putting an ad on Craigslist or posting flyers on the street may bring some undesirable people your way, and I don’t recommend it. Instead, you can keep the drive small, and tell all your friends and family to bring their donations to your apartment. Alternatively, maybe there is a community center nearby, a bodega, or some other public space, where you can offer to host the drive and take responsibility for clearing out donations.
Now that you have a space to put your box, you have to find one big enough to hold your donations. You can buy boxes at a store like Staples, but that’s going to cost you money and who wants to spend money when you don’t have to? Think about stuff that comes in big boxes: refrigerators, furniture, clothing. Now think of stores that sell these items and give them a call, asking if they have any large boxes (in good condition) they want to get rid of. Chances are, you’ll be able to snag a few boxes and re-use them for your drive. Refrigerator not included.
The next step is finding a place to donate all of the coats you collect. You should have this decision made before you start; if you’re arranging for a pick-up date, you’ll want that day to coincide with the day after your drive ends, so that you’re not storing boxes of stranger’s coats in your home for too long. If you’re donating to another drive, like New York Cares, you can take coats as you get them to drop-off sites, so that you don’t have to worry about storage. Either way, know where the coats are going. I’ll list some places at the end of the post that you can call and ask if they are in need of coat donations.
You should now be ready to start collecting coats! You can click here to download (free) flyers for your drive, and I’ll even personalize it for you if you ask nicely. You can post these flyers in your building or office, or email them to family and friends. Get the word out in advance, so that people have time to look through their closets and say goodbye to their precious coats. Set a definitive time span for your drive, and make sure you’ve mentioned that only RE-USEABLE, GENTLY-USED COATS should be donated. You can also mention on your flyer or email those things that shouldn’t be donated: gloves, hats, abandoned kittens, garbage, etc. You’d be surprised to find out what some people will put in an unattended box, so it’s wise to be specific…And it’s always a good idea provide contact information for anyone who has questions about what to donate, where their donations are going, etc.
Other things to know:
-Did I mention you can download free flyers here?
-To make your donation box more appealing to prospective donators, wrap it in some festive wrapping paper. Don’t put out a box that is fortified with a roll of duct tape and sagging-its an eyesore and not good for business…
-Tell people where the coats will be donated. It makes the drive more personal to each person if they can say: “Hey, I helped out the Salvation Army today,” instead of “I put my coat in an unmarked box and have no idea where its going. I think the lady on the 6th floor may be stealing coats for resale.”
-After your drive is finished, follow-up with an email or another flyer that says how many coats were collected. If you receive a thank you letter from the organization that received the donation, photocopy and share it. People like to know they’ve made a difference, and it feels good to know you were a part of something.
Find a Place to Donate(Always call ahead before showing up with coats):
NYC Stuff Exchange (will help you find places in your zip code)
You can also check with local churches, shelters, synagogues, and other community-centered places to see if they are in need of coats this winter.
There are tons of places to donate, so don’t think that this list is exhaustive. If you’re an organization that is in need of coat donations, please reply below with your information and location!
Email or comment with any additional suggestions for hosting a successful coat drive,or tell us about your own drive and how it went!