According to statistics, there are 795 homeless people per 100,000 people in San Francisco — one of the country's highest rates for homelessness. San Francisco is a compact city by the water, and the weather can get pretty chilly at night — something that may seem trivial for someone with shelter, but a real challenge for the city's many homeless residents.
One Warm Coat — OWC — has been operating as a philanthropic organization dedicated to providing much needed clothing to individuals in the Bay Area, the country and the world; the organization also enjoys a presence in a diverse number of countries outside of the United States, including Lebanon, Singapore and Hong Kong.
OWC originally started in 1992 as an event held in San Francisco's Union Square. Not formally an organization — the genesis of OWC “just happened.” Coats were distributed successfully to people in need, and the drive continued, with the organization building informally around that original drive. These events were held by Lois Pavlow, who continued to build recognition and esteem for OWC to the point of recognition by the Bush White House, which said of Pavlow, “Since the One Warm Coat began in 1992, 3/4 of one million coats have been donated.” In addition to her work with OWC, Pavlow also founded the Child Abuse Prevention Society.
Pavlow was involved in OWC the entire time until her passing in 2015, leaving it in the venerable hands of Sherri Lewis Wood, who stands now as OWC's Chair and “National Founder.” While talking with Wood, she expressed that one of the primary accomplishments of OWC was its longevity — the organization has been around for almost a quarter of a century now and many of its volunteers are proud of having volunteered for OWC as children or young adults.
OWC has roughly 80 agencies throughout the Bay Area, and Wood stated that the structure allowed for the informality needed for affiliates to hold drives of their own — whether they are running a preschool, church, university or a senior care center. “We don't have a bureaucracy; we're a virtual organization that allows people to create their own drives. To me, the cool thing is 25 years later, we're growing and they're still coming back,” Wood said. “Right now, we've really got to get caring about other people. It's about what you have — most people have another coat and think about those who don't.”
OWC is affiliated with a wide swath of businesses in the area, including very well known ones, such as Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola launched several showcases at Walmarts in Northern California aimed at raising awareness of OWC to Wal-Mart shoppers, all of whom could participate in OWC's drives. “Most people have at least one extra coat,” Wood said. “Imagine there's someone out there who doesn't.”
Coat drives are operated very informally, with OWC-provided banners and tax receipts that can be given to drive participants, with most of the other formalities decided upon by the participating groups. The OWC website allows users to easily locate drives in their vicinity — for example, there are 30 drives within the Berkeley area.
One organization that has been involved in OWC's coat drives for a significant time, about 12 years, has been the Boston Private Bank — BPB — a lending wealth management and private banking company with locations throughout the Bay Area. Annually, the bank collects 150?200 coats by way of their clients to be later distributed by the St. Anthony clothing site — a San Francisco based charity. The coat collection process for BPB lasts from November 21 until December 15, and over the last years has grown to encompass all 5 of BPB's branches in the area. “There are much larger donation sites, but we feel we can get the attention of people walking by, seeing our display and bringing a coat in the next day that they may have hanging unused at home,” Sue Colliver, branch manager at BPB, told me. “Donors have come back year after year to make coat donations at our location, they say it is convenient and easy for a worthwhile cause.”
Another organization that has been heavily involved with OWC has been the Girl Scouts. Scout leader Tiffany Hasker — whose troop has been participating in OWC coat drives in 2015 and 2016 — said that she saw direct impact in her troop members' sensibility as they delivered much needed items to people in need, “They love feeling like they are bringing their whole school together to help their community,” she said. “They take great pride in speaking in front of the school about it, and in delivering the coats to the homeless center. Especially since our school is near a park where there are homeless people — they see firsthand the direct need for what they are doing.”
Hasker commented about what a success their drive was — her girls collected over 200 coats in all, so many that the local homeless center organized an event just to distribute the coats. “The girls were over the moon about that,” Hasker said.
There are always people in need and the winter season is a time in which many less fortunate people are more prone to vulnerability from cold weather. Check out one of OWC's many drives at www.onewarmcoat.org
, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
. You might be able to help someone make their way out of the cold!