Chicago Police Build Community One Warm Winter Coat at a Time

In a city with winters as long, and as unforgiving as Chicago’s, one of the most glaring and persistent needs of the city’s poorest children has been warm winter coats. Thankfully, the Chicago Police Department’s Community Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) is stepping in to help.

Since its founding in 1993, CAPS has worked to make neighborhoods safer, and strengthen the relationship between the community and the Chicago Police Department. The CAPS team has leveraged a variety of community policing strategies, from adding more neighborhood beat officers, hosting community meetings with police and residents, and putting on neighborhood events – all with the goal of increasing dialogue and understanding between police and the community.

The events are key to CAPS’ success, says 5th District Sargent Regina Hightower.

“We invite the entire community…[and] we try to tailor the event to the individual needs in the community,” Hightower said.

The CAPS’ 5th District team saw the need for coats every day in their community, so they reached out to Operation Warm to establish a partnership. When they kicked off the program, the 5th District team asked each elementary school in the district to send the names of 10 children in greatest need of a coat, and they would come into the station with their families. However, it soon became clear how just how great the need for coats was in the community, 5th District Officer Vivian Williams said.

“We had some parents who told us that they had other children at home who needed a coat,” Williams said. “We also had a judge who knew about a family of seven children. So, she sent the children over to us, and we were able to fit them with coats.”

 In total, the CAPS has distributed nearly 400 coats in Chicago’s 5th District. While each warm winter coat is a necessity in the winter months, a brand-new coat provides much more than warmth. Giving a child a new coat of their own, rather than an older, worn coat, tells them they’re worth it, and helps to build self-confidence and self-worth.

To take that old coat off of them and put a brand-new coat on them — their heads went from looking down to looking up,” Williams said. “They were so proud to have their new coats.”

Events like the one held at the 5th District station touch the heart of the community, and are an important step in showing that residents are being heard and their needs addressed.

“Our partnership with the Chicago Police Department is a great example of how Operation Warm coats are ‘More Than a Coat,’” Rich Lalley, Development Director at Operation Warm said. “When police officers give coats to families in their community, they begin to build rapport and trust.”

As is the case with coat distribution events, the benefits were felt by far more than just the kids receiving the coats.

“[We] are able to say ‘Hey, I contributed in a positive manner to building this partnership,’” Hightower said. “Just as the community needs us, we need the community.”

The impact of the CAPS and Operation Warm partnership has been immediate, and is now spreading, with two additional Districts recently organizing their own events. Funding for the program comes directly from police officers, with donations matched by Chicago area foundations and corporations, such as Peoples Home Equity.

“We’ll be walking on the street sometimes, and these kids will just come up and give us hugs,” said Williams. “It is so wonderful that we have made this connection with the children, that they know us and give us a hug when they see us. It is just a warm feeling.”

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