Photo submittedElkhart Community School social workers pick out coats for their students during the United Way of Elkhart County's coat drive Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. The school district received about 350 coats this year.
Elkhart Truth photo/Sam HouseholderDozens of coats remain on racks inside the Elkhart Community Schools Transportation Center Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. The coats were donated by the United Way of Elkhart County's annual coat drive and will be given to students by social workers at Elkhart schools.
Photo submittedElkhart Community School social workers pick out coats for students during the United Way of Elkhart County's annual coat drive drop off Friday, Dec. 2, 2016.
The organization, marking 3 years of the annual event, dropped off around 350 coats for Elkhart Community Schools students Friday during the first wave of its annual coat drive.
According to Jim Mason, campaign relationship manager for the United Way of Elkhart County, coats were distributed to Elkhart schools and the Elkhart County Women's Shelter on Friday. Coats will be given to Goshen Community Schools on Wednesday, he said.
Many students in the Elkhart schools system depend on the coat drive to get a winter jacket, school officials say.
“This means so much to students who may not have the resources for a warm coat," said Tracey Miller, a social worker at North Side Middle School in Elkhart. "Today, I gave a coat to a student and his face lit up. He smiled ear to ear."
Social workers from Elkhart schools came to the district's transportation building, just west of Elkhart Memorial High School, to gather coats to take back to their schools and discreetly give out to students in need.
"It means a lot to our students to have coats, hats, and mittens on hand and available for them," said Donna Gildea, a social worker at Elkhart Academy. "Some of our students refer to it as our fashion closet. They feel comfortable coming in if they need a warm coat, they love looking through and picking out a jacket."
Mason said that the United Way works with over 15 local businesses, which collect coats for several weeks and then the organization picks them up and distributes them. He said many coats are in new or almost-new condition and many are brand names.
"They're not getting really worn jackets or anything like that," he said.
Only a couple dozen coats remained at the transportation center late Friday afternoon and they would likely be given to another local organization school officials said. The coat program is important for students, the social workers say and makes a difference in the students' lives.
"With the support of programs like this, we’re able to help students," Miller said. "It truly brings tears to our eyes to make a difference in ways like this.”