CANTON — Two garbage bags stuffed with brand-new puffy winter coats made their way to the main hallway of Canton Central School District’s J.M. McKenney Middle School Friday morning.
“In the north country, a winter coat is not a luxury item,” People Project Director Mary Wills said. “It’s a necessity for every person.”
One of 12 school districts in the county to receive winter coat donations from the People Project, Canton Central will handle distribution of the free coats to kids in need, People Project steering committee member Lenore VanderZee said.
A mix of colors and sizes for elementary through high school-aged students, 200 coats were secured for the county by the People Project, which is a union-led coalition of employers, educators, government leaders and community members from across St. Lawrence County.
A program of the American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers, the People Project advocates for community engagement, quality public education and sustainable local economies, and the winter coat initiative is one way the People Project is working to assist county residents living in poverty.
The county poverty rate across all individuals is 19.4%, with 29% of the county’s children living in poverty, according to the state Community Action Association’s 2019 report. The 19.4% overall poverty rate, which is about 4% higher than the state’s average 15.1% rate, makes St. Lawrence County the sixth most impoverished county in the state.
“There’s definitely a lot of need, and we’re very happy to be able to fill that need,” People Project steering committee member Leigh Rodriguez said.
Ms. Rodriguez and Ms. VanderZee were joined by Canton Central Superintendent Ronald P. Burke, science teacher and Canton Central Teachers’ Association President Kristen Ames and school counselor Kelley Glasgow, who, together received the coats on behalf of the district.
“We always do our best to provide for the kids,” Ms. Glasgow said. “So these warm coats will really help us do that.”
The coats were given to the People Project by Operation Warm, a national nonprofit that has provided coats to kids and families since 1998. Each coat is lined with fleece, is machine washable, and features a water repellent shell, deep pockets and a detachable hood.
Ms. Wills requested the coats from Operation Warm last year, but with more than 150,000 names on the organization’s waiting list, the People Project didn’t expect much of a response.
But earlier this month, according to NYSUT, over 20 cases were delivered to Ms. Wills’ residence — 200 coats of many colors were packed inside.
Coats have already been delivered to Ogdensburg City Schools, Gouverneur Central, Potsdam Central and now Canton. Additional districts will be presented with coats in the coming weeks.
Those interested in obtaining a coat for their child or children should contact the school districts for more information.