Warm Hearts, Warm Kids

For many students at the Nellie Stone Johnson Community School in Minneapolis, winter is not all about happy holidays and warm apple cider. Winter means bone-chilling temperatures that can keep them from going to school if their family can’t afford to buy them a warm coat.

But thanks to a delivery by volunteers at Eagan, Minn., based Freightmasters about 600 of these students will be a little warmer this winter.

Freightmasters staff teamed up with some other warmhearted people at national clothing retailer Charming Shoppes to help get coats to disadvantaged Minneapolis students. The coat distribution was a part of Charming Shoppes’ “Keeping Kids Warm” program, which provides the coats. Last fall, before winter was unleashed, Freightmasters and Charming Shoppes personnel arrived at the school with the coats.

“When we gave those coats to those kids it was, for many of them, the first real winter coat they had ever owned,” says Mark Reimer, corporate vice president of Freightmasters.

Reimer says that more than 20 percent of the children who received coats were either homeless or between homes. He talked with the school’s principal and a social worker, and they told him that because of this coat giveaway school attendance should improve.

“Many siblings have had to share the same coat,” Reimer says, explaining that the sibling who doesn’t get the coat for that day must stay at home if it’s too cold to go to school without a coat.

Dorrit J. Bern, chairman, CEO and president of Charming Shoppes, which is based in Bensalem, Pa., created Keeping Kids Warm. “Our volunteers go to the schools, introduce themselves to each student, and help them try on a new coat,” says Bern. “There are many situations where the student has never had a winter coat, new or old.”

Charming Shoppes selects schools across the country for the coat program based upon the level of need and other factors. Since it began six years ago, 14,000 coats have been distributed to needy children across the country. The coats, which come in a variety of current styles, were purchased by Charming Shoppes, or donated by the company’s clothing vendors. Charming Shoppes has more than 2,300 retail clothing stores nationwide, including Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug and Catherine’s Plus Sizes.

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“When we gave those coats to those kids it was, for many of them, the first real winter coat they ever owned.”
–Mark Reimer of Freightmasters

Along with these 600 coats, 400 more coats were given to needy children at four other schools in Minnesota. Freightmasters’ volunteers helped distribute these coats as well.

“All companies like ours should take the opportunity to give back to the community,” Reimer says. “Charming Shoppes came to us and asked for our support and we quickly said yes.” This year was Freightmasters’ first time participating in Keeping Kids Warm, but Reimer says the company definitely plans to help out again.

Reimer gives credit to James Rosa, director of transportation for Charming Shoppes, for the success of the project. “He travels the whole country setting up the logistics and organizing volunteers,” Reimer says.

But Rosa feels accolades should be passed on to the teachers and the administrative staff at the schools. “We’re not really the heroes,” Rosa says. “They’re there every day and they’re making a difference.”

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