A Pink Ski Coat Sparks a Cape Cod Donor Managed Coat Program
It started out the way any good thing does, through a mixture of serendipity, luck and a kind heart or two. A brand new pink ski coat sparked an ongoing act of care and community that will hopefully continue for generations.
“It really was a moment, although we didn’t know it at the time,” says Lee Chirgwin, a self-described “typical retiree trying to pay it forward,” who decided to help start a donor managed coat program through Operation Warm, to benefit local children in the community of lower Cape Cod.
Three years earlier, Chirgwin and his wife, Jane, took their kids and grandkids to Vermont on a family ski trip. They discovered that their granddaughter needed a coat, so they bought a brand new pink ski jacket, not knowing that their daughter-in-law had also purchased a coat. Rather than return the extra ski jacket, the Chirgwins decided to donate it to Katy’s Korner, a program that allows its clients to select the clothing and bedding they need for themselves and their families.
“Of course, when we donated the coat, we didn’t get to see who received it, but gee what a great feeling that was,” Chirgwin says. Still, there was something that continued to nag at them. They felt they should do more.
“We wanted to do something more expansive and reach more children,” Chirgwin says. “I started thinking about where I could get more coats, and how I could warehouse them, etc.,” he says. The process of getting coats on kids was daunting. “I had totally shut down, based on the logistics.”
That seems to have been the moment when fate stepped in to solve many of the obstacles that Chirgwin was sure might get in the way of giving local children a gift of warmth. “In November, I saw just a couple of sentences about the Hyannis Firefighters working with Operation Warm to get coats for kids. A quick five minute review of Operation Warm’s robust website and we knew all our problems were solved. Operation Warm has already done everything. Your organization was very impressive. This would never have gone anywhere without Operation Warm.”
Chirgwin talked with Jane, who was also excited by the opportunity to provide children in need with coats.They set up a charitable trust to fund 102 coats. “Jane couldn’t say yes fast enough!” he says. This was not surprising. The couple has been a solid team for more than 53 years.
The Chirgwins contacted the Lower Cape Outreach Council (LOCC), an organization dedicated to providing emergency assistance of food, clothing and financial support to individuals and families in the Brewster, Chatham, Eastham, Harwich, Orleans, Provincetown, Truro and Wellfleet sections of Cape Cod. The Lower Cape OutReach Council is also the organization behind Katy’s Korner.
“LOCC services the outer eight towns—from the elbow out to the tip,” Chigwin says. “Our needs and education levels are very different—it is not classic poverty—a lot of people don’t think there is a need, but there is a huge need. It is the working poor. It is a combination of very high housing costs, because of being a resort area, combined with few well paying jobs. Basically, the median wage on the Lower Cape covers only 50 percent or less of the median rental or home purchase.”
Two days after making the call to the LOCC, the Chirgwins sat down with Larry Marsland, CEO, and Gennie Moran, COO, to outline their vision, and introduce them to Operation Warm. “Literally, they both said ‘we’re in’ within ten minutes. It was that easy.” They quickly mobilized a team of 350 volunteers to get the program up and running.
Within a day, Operation Warm set up a personalized donation page for others who wanted to donate to the program and get more coats on kids. LOCC matched the Chirgwin’s original gift, and it all snowballed from there. Two more matches were made, one from Operation Warm funds provided by generous donors and supporters, and another from a private individual who gave on New Years Eve. “Many generous donors have given LCOC a $4,000 head start for their 2016-17 winter campaign,” Chirgwin adds.
“Literally, we had coats on the backs of kids three weeks tops after we first heard of Operation Warm!” he says. “When you see how quickly and effectively we were able to do good, it warms your heart.”
Theirs were not the only hearts warmed. Grateful children reached out to make a thank you poster, which is now proudly framed and on display at the Chirgwin home.
“The Operation Warm Donor Managed Program was so incredibly easy to do,” he says. “Everyone was so organized and caring. Things were happening on the good side so fast.” Plans are already underway to expand the program for this coming year. “We consider ourselves the matchmakers,” he says. “We matched up two organizations with very high standards, Lower Cape Outreach Council and Operation Warm. With two pluses, we were able to do some tremendous give back.
The Chirgwins also plan to expand their outreach to reach Connecticut children in need and are hard at work in the hopes of launching this second project.