Spreading warmth, one coat at a time

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Oct. 17—ANDERSON — Tom Bannon likes to share a story from several years ago, when the annual Keith Trent Coats of Caring was held in the gymnasium of the Wigwam, that he said epitomizes the impact the event has on the community.

As a family entered the gym, one of the children, a boy Bannon estimated was about seven years old, charged ahead briefly before stopping short and gazing, wide-eyed, at row after row of new winter coats.

Bannon thought the child was awestruck by the size of the iconic gymnasium, but that wasn't the case.

"He's talking to himself out loud, and he said, 'I don't have to be cold anymore,'" recalled Bannon, the vice president of community engagement and chief foundation officer at Community Hospital Anderson. "He didn't care about the size of the gym. He cared that he saw all these coats, and he knew he was going home with a coat and he didn't have to be cold any more. That really demonstrates the impact of this event."

Saturday, for the second consecutive year, Coats of Caring was held at Madison Park Church of God in a drive-thru format. Although coat recipients remaining in their vehicles meant not seeing as many smiling faces — and no one could try on coats, as in the past — organizers were pleased with the overall efficiency of the process.

"While we need to tweak it and make some improvements year after year, this format's actually been pretty successful versus the shopping that we used to do," said Beth Tharp, president and CEO of Community Hospital Anderson. "We just know it fills a significant need in our community."

That need has grown steadily since Trent, who retired after 38 years working in the human resources department at Community Hospital Anderson, organized the first event, which was held in the hospital's cafeteria. Coats of Caring soon outgrew that space, as well as the hospital's conference rooms, and then the Wigwam.

In 2014, the effort was renamed Keith Trent's Coats of Caring in recognition of his efforts to organize and recruit hundreds of volunteers and dozens of local businesses to assist in gathering and preparing new and gently used coats to give away.

"We get a lot of good volunteers," Trent said Saturday. "A lot of people donate a lot of time and money."

Bannon said organizers evaluate the logistics each year, and the drive-thru format — which utilizes Madison Park's spacious lobby area — could remain even after the pandemic subsides.

"Our concern last year was, gosh, it would be nice if they could try on the coats," Bannon said. "But what we found was hardly anybody called and said 'Our coat wasn't the right size." I think most people know to go a size big if they're not sure, so it didn't turn out to be too much of an issue. We'll see as we move forward, but this may be the way we continue to do it."

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

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