Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Holiday's spirit honored by warming community

Akron church's Winter Wear Coat Giveaway reaches 1,000th provided since 2007

The weather and the crowd change every year, but the message is always the same on Martin Luther King Jr. Day during the Winter Wear Coat Giveaway at Akron's Arlington Church of God.

''We are all about service, which is what Martin Luther King dedicated his life to,'' explains Associate Minister Diane Lewis, who has headed each of the church's four giveaways.

The effort led to the distribution of nearly 300 coats and thousands of other items — such as gloves, mittens, scarfs and hats to low-income Akron families.

The number of coats given away on Monday was down from last year, when some 380 coats were distributed.

Hundreds of people milled through the church's gymnasium looking for items that might help to protect them from winter's chill.

Some youngsters were given dolls by the Giving Doll.

The Giving Dolls volunteers brought 100 handmade cloth dolls.

Giving Doll creator Jan Householder said 75 of the dolls were handed out Monday, while 25 will be packaged and sent as part of the relief effort for victims of a devastating earthquake in Haiti.

''The dolls were a real surprise,'' said one woman from Akron's Kenmore area. ''As soon as we walked in the door, that was what the kids went right to.

''They didn't see anything else but the baby dolls.''

The 27-year-old single mother of two girls, ages 5 and 7, said the coats are a big help.

''They have everything you could want to try to keep warm and the people here were very friendly and helpful,'' she said.

''Although it's been warm out, I know there's still plenty of cold days ahead of us.''

Lewis said this past weekend's warmer weather might give some residents a false sense of security.

Another factor, Lewis said, in the drop in demand is the fact a couple of associated agencies did not send over any clients this year.

Monday's effort marked a milestone. Around 11 a.m. the 1,000th coat was given out.

''That was really special to hit 1,000 coats,'' said Lewis, who also serves as the director of the church's WE CARE Outreach Ministry. ''But it didn't surprise me.

''I figured when we started this in 2007 that we'd hit that number. But we don't want to stop there because there is still so much more service to provide to people in the community.

''Our goal is to get larger every year,'' Lewis said. ''We want to serve as many people as we possibly can.''

Organizers also spent a good portion of the day talking to participants — some of whom lined up more than 30 minutes before the doors opened.

''We started the event by talking about the many contributions of Martin Luther King's life,'' Lewis said. ''We want people to have a better understanding of the man, the message and the mission.

''We are the mission, which is to serve the present age. We can't do anything about the past.

''And we can only plan for the future. That's why we focus on the present.''

Two partner schools, David Hill Community Learning Center and the Academy at Robinson, would receive any coats or other items that were not distributed Monday.

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