Blue Bridge Project provides coats, warmth to those who need it

Jan. 15—ANDERSON — Lilah Marlette made a new year's resolution to be more intentional about serving others.

On Saturday, the Frankton Elementary School fifth-grader stood at the western end of the John F. Kennedy Bridge of Character, bundled against subfreezing temperatures, and watched as dozens of people browsed through coats hung on the bright blue framing of the structure.

Marlette, 10, and some of her family members had brought several coats they've outgrown to add to the collection of outerwear available to anyone who wanted it. They saw the third annual Blue Bridge Project as an ideal fit for her vow to help others.

"A lot of people don't know what it's like to be poor and don't know how it is to not have stuff like we do," Marlette said. "I just wanted to help out and help people feel that way."

The project, sponsored by local nonprofit Turn Away No Longer, recruits volunteers to hang coats on the bridge, which spans the White River in downtown Anderson. Those who need a coat can then browse through the inventory — this year, an estimated 350 coats — and take what they need, no questions asked.

"Often they don't want to go into other agencies because they feel humiliated or they're just too proud and they don't want to ask for help," said Tracy Walters, co-founder of Turn Away No Longer, Inc.

"They can come here and get coats for themselves, their kids, grandkids, without any judgment or feeling like they're being judged and get what they need."

Walters said some of the coats this year were left over from the organization's holiday clothing drive, while about 30 additional coats were brought to the bridge by volunteers from Anderson Preparatory Academy.

She added that, even if people were unable to find exactly the coat they wanted, volunteers would take down contact information and size preferences in an effort to make sure those who need the garments would eventually get them.

"It's good for the community," said Shaun Lakey of Anderson, who brought Mystery Kemp to try on some coats. "People need help out here on the streets."

Walters said TANL's efforts — including holiday clothing and toy drives, Saturday's coat giveaway and Katie's Closet, an outlet that distributes clothing and school supplies to children entering foster care — have been magnified in recent months with inflation weighing heavily on many people's minds.

"We have a lot of single moms that are really working their butts off to provide for their kids," she said. "They have to choose between food and bills and whether they get to buy a coat for their kids.

"They shouldn't have to feel that way. That's part of why this has been created, so they don't have to feel that way."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.