Volunteers Cathy Houldson and Wendy Hempe give coats a final check

‘So much need’ for South Surrey-based coat project to continue, grow

Comfort Coats volunteers try to keep up with demand, hope for backing to boost reach.

Without help, a 16-year tradition of bringing warmth to the homeless may be nearing its end.

Comfort Coats have been a project of the Helpers of St. Anne, a Catholic outreach ministry at South Surrey’s Star of the Sea Parish, since 2001.

Every fall, the volunteers carefully piece together 25 to 30 of the layered, waterproof coats in preparation for distribution through various crisis-intervention centers and emergency shelters.

But while the need for the fleece-lined, full-length, quilted and hooded coats, which also double as sleeping bags, hasn’t subsided – it’s grown, with requests now also coming in from Victoria and Edmonton – organizer Carolyn Wharton said the ability to meet it is at risk, due to the age of those who craft the coats, and finances.

“It’s just reality that eventually we’re not going to be able to get our act together,” Wharton, 64, said this week. “It really troubles me. It’ll be a sad day if there’s no future for them.”

Wharton said ideally, she would like to have the coats manufactured – as she did for a batch of 100 that was distributed during the 2010 Olympics. The process would enable more of them to be made, and faster.

VolunteersBut while she’s researched options for doing that, she said the minimum order of 140 coats is more than her group, which typically fundraises for the necessary materials, can afford.

They raised $23,000 to pull off the Olympic gift.

“If I had them manufactured, they’re not going to be cheap,” Wharton said.

If sustainable funding could be found, “I’d get in touch with a manufacturer right away.” she said.

Work on the majority of this year’s coats wrapped up Monday, and the pockets of each were carefully stuffed with toques and other basics aimed at helping the recipients stay warm.“There’s so much need.”

 

Wharton noted the volunteers do more than simply put the coats together.

“Everybody that sews a coat prays for the person that receives them all year round,” she said. “We need them to know that they’re loved.”

She appealed for anyone with ideas for how to sustain and grow the effort to contact her at cawharton@shaw.ca

“These coats can help save lives until permanent housing can be found,” Wharton said.

“I’m all ears in case anybody has any ideas.”

 

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