Thousands of children in Central Iowa alone do not own proper winter attire, such as coats, hats, gloves, and scarves.
The Winter Warmth Drive is an attempt to aid those children.
Tim Gaynor first thought of the idea for the Winter Warmth Drive in 2008 while cleaning out his own coat closet. He was planning on donating outgrown items to Goodwill as he always did.
Then it hit him.
“Almost all parents who had school age children were doing the same thing I was,” Gaynor said.
He decided that together they could help those who needed winter attire directly.
“I thought maybe I should find someone who needed these items and give them to them,” he stated.
Gaynor started the drive at Principal where he worked. Then, he recruited Maple Grove Elementary in the Waukee Community School District where his son attended. In that first year, the drive raked in over 700 items. The following year, Principal did not participate, but Gaynor roped in three more schools in the Waukee district, including Waukee High School. In 2010, seven Waukee schools participated, and the following year all ten of Waukee schools took part, accumulating nearly 1,800 items. The items collected in the drives from 2008-2010 were donated to local agencies that included Freedom for Youth, Hawthorn Hill, Hope Ministries, Serve Our Youth, and Youth Emergency Services and Shelter. In 2011, the drive had an opportunity to provide items to Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which consists of many low income families where many of the children live in one-parent homes or homes of heavy addiction. Many of these homes are dilapidated with missing doors and windows, so residents keep warm with extra coats and blankets.
In 2011, Edmunds Elementary in the Des Moines school district contacted Gaynor with an interest in receiving some of the items the drive would collect. “To be honest, this goes a bit to my unawareness of some of the struggles that others face in our community,” said Gaynor. “I was confused on why a school would need coats, hats, or gloves.”
And Gaynor was blown away by what the school told him. “Edmunds, like many other schools within the Des Moines region, is made up 100 percent of students who come from families who qualify for free or reduced lunch, thus lower income homes.” These students not only come from low income families, but most are from broken homes. Many of them are also recent immigrants of Africa who are not accustomed to Iowa winters. Due to these conditions, many come to school without the proper winter attire.
During 2012, items collected by the drive were donated to four Des Moines elementary schools: Edmunds, Moultons, Monroe, and King. King Elementary does not just keep items on hand to distribute to students who need them. The school also takes a night to open their gym with most of the items laid out for families from the community to come in and pick up any items their family needs. That same year, not only did all Waukee schools return for the drive, but Gaynor also recruited ten schools from the West Des Moines School District, including Valley High School. Because of the growing numbers, Gaynor felt he couldn’t handle the drive completely on his own. “Due to the size of the drive, I decided to put together a board made up of students (from participating schools),” Gaynor said. “I initially wanted to provide an avenue for students to work on a large community service project but to also to work on marketing, advertising, project management, teamwork, leadership, and public speaking skills.”
Natalie Deerr, a senior at Waukee, joined the board in its first year and has returned again this year. “I joined the board because it was an opportunity to serve my community. It’s really cool that the impact the drive has stays close to home, just in the Metro area,” says Deerr.
This year’s drive runs from Oct. 28 through Nov.7 with participation from Waukee, West Des Moines, Johnston, Urbandale, and Des Moines Christian schools. “Five school districts, 23 schools, and 17,000 students involved,” Gaynor stated. “(The year) 2013 has been the largest drive to date.”
Last year, the drive collected nearly 2,500 items. This year, the board hopes to round up at least 4,000 items. A group of students will gather at Waukee High School to sort all of the items on Saturday, Nov. 9.
For more information on the drive and how you can contribute, contact Tim Gaynor at 515-418-2146.