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'Winter isn't cancelled,' says Koats for a Kause volunteer (9 photos)

COVID-19 put a chill on the annual Coats for Kids drive so volunteers from Addiction And Mental Health Advocates warmed to the cause

Despite the rain, Sunday, Nov. 15, the old Grand Gardens Hall on Dennis Street was buzzing with excitement.

People were lined up to take part in Koats for a Kause, a winter clothing drive for the local people in need, run by Addiction And Mental Health Advocates (AAMHA).

Coats of all colours and sizes were organized by size and hung on racks, tables of scarves, socks and hats were piled high, blankets and boots were displayed and, mitts and scarves were draped along the walls of the hall like garlands.

“It’s really a labour of love,” said Donna DeSimon, Chair of AAMHA.

“After Nov. 9, we’ve been here night and day, going through bags and sorting sizes…There were mountains, and I mean mountains of bags to go through,” said DeSimon.

Since the news that the annual “Coats for Kids” was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AAMHA decided to step up and make sure that families would still be warm this season.

“Winter isn’t cancelled,” said Tammy Caswell, 54. As an educational assistant with ADSB, she knows full well just how much the pandemic has affected peoples’ mental health, well-being and financial situation.

“It’s still cold, people are still hungry, they still need the help,” said Sharon Miskimins, who recently joined AAMHA after her youngest son committed suicide this past summer.

“Everybody has their mental issues, their moments, their breakdowns…but we all need support in one form or another,” said Mismikins.

Angie DeSimon, 45, has been with AAMHA since the start of the organization, last October. DeSimon believes that addiction and mental health go hand-in-hand.

“If we help people with their mental health, they might not turn to drugs in the first place,” said Angie.

Koats for a Kause is an extension of the support that this not-for-profit group offers.

The event ran from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., but the volunteers were there as early as 10 a.m., making sure everything was ready for the public.

AAMHA has been collecting donations since the end of October. The Dragonfly, employees of OLG, employees of Christie’s RV, employees of the Ontario Finnish Rest Home, Hair Razors, Soo Pride and Koach Katrina’s are just a few local businesses that supplied donations to the cause.

Several businesses chose not to associate with this event due to the stigma surrounding the virus, given that Coats for Kids was cancelled for a reason.

However, DeSimon said that all Covid-19 rules were being followed.

“We have a sign-in sheet at the front [for contact tracing]…an entrance that you come in and a different exit that you go out, everyone’s wearing masks and sanitizing when they come in and sanitizing before they leave.” There was a limit of 10 people in at a time and security, just in case.

“This city could be broken in a lot of ways, but in the most important ways, we need them all to come together. And they do,” Angie said.

Don Bob, a broadly built man with a weathered face had tears in his eyes as he picked out a scarf and large fleece gloves. “It hurts to ask for help,” he said.

Bob is on disability and will often go out to the boardwalk and take food to people from the Soup Kitchen because they’re too ashamed or embarrassed to get it for themselves.

“We gotta take care of each other,” he said.

Over 230 local people benefited from this coat drive.

“You know, we put a lot of work into this, so to see people come and get what they need is extremely rewarding,” said Caswell.

According to Angie, now is the most important time for this to happen.

“[Koats for a Kause] is our way of coming together through this pandemic and making sure people are taken care of,” said DeSimon.

Bob cradled the blanket and small black garbage bag of winter clothes, “Thank you for your generosity and the gifts,” he said softly.

The AAMHA support group meets every Tuesday evening, and is currently looking for a new venue. To contact the group, find them on Facebook or by email.

More than 14 volunteers gathered to help make this event possible.