EDITOR’S NOTE: UCF student Elizabeth Sullivan is an Undergraduate Studies/Interdisciplinary Studies major with a Health Services Administration minor.
The recent dip in temperatures, while short-lived, was still enough to remind folks that winter coats come in handy once in a while in Florida.
That reality has not escaped Bethune Beach resident Elizabeth Sullivan, who has spent most of the last month trying to collect coats and even blankets for needy residents.
Sullivan calls her program, which she kicked off Dec. 6, “Caroling for Coats.”
“My husband and my sister are the singers,” she explained in a recent interview.
In past years, the trio has been involved with other charitable efforts during the holiday, including helping collect food donations from her neighbors for the Second Harvest Food Bank.
This year, however, Sullivan said she was so touched by a report that aired Nov. 25 on the news show “60 Minutes” that focused on homelessness. Among the people profiled were Central Florida residents who lived in cars.
“I thought how lucky I was,” the 49-yeard-old Sullivan said, adding she was caught off guard by the images.
“That really surprised me,” she said.
It also spurred her to act.
She started making phone calls. She visited public schools. She found people who needed help and teachers who welcomed her efforts.
Once the story got out, the donations were forthcoming. To make it convenient for donors, she asked friends who own Delicious Nutritious on Canal Street if she could use the shop as a drop-off spot for coats and other winter wear.
Business owners Annie Hardy and Brad Gordon donated the use of a closet where donations are stored until Sullivan stops by, usually several times a week, to pick them up.
“It’s amazing. Hundreds and hundred of coats have been dropped off. And it is just not coats. We have blankets, too,” Hardy said Thursday.
As of Dec. 15, Sullivan had collected and given out about 350 items. During the interview, she pulled out a box filled with hand-knitted caps that had been recently donated.
“The outpouring of generosity from our community has been so very gracious and loving,” she said, adding she does not accept cash donations.
Between Dec. 6 and Dec. 15, she made donations to four schools– Turie T. Small Elementary in Daytona Beach as well as Chisholm Elementary, New Smyrna Beach Middle and New Smyrna Beach High.
Sullivan also contacted city officials, who helped her set up a “Day of Giving” at the Alonzo “Babe” James Community Center, where residents could pick up coats, blankets, sweatshirts and assorted winter wear items.
Donna Banks, community resource officer for the city, said the event went very well.
“We were able to actually serve approximately 10 to 15 people who for all intent and purposes were homeless,” Banks said.
She said Sullivan also donated blankets to the center that were distributed to clients coming into the facility later that day.
Sullivan, meanwhile, said she collected enough donations this week to fill the closet again. She estimated she has about 200 items. She has received calls for aid from a shelter in DeLand and she also has been contacted by officials with the Star Center in Daytona Beach.
She also said she is working with officials from Habitat for Humanity on ways to turn her program into something more permanent.
“This has been great,” said Sullivan, who relocated her from New Jersey to be with family more than a decade ago. She ran a restaurant for several years. She is currently completing a degree from the University of Central Florida.
Most of her donations, she said, come through people who contact her via her website, www.carolingforcoats.org. Beside the drop-off site, Sullivan and her husband pick up donations. So far, most of the donors live in East Volusia.
“If I were cold, I would want somebody to give me a coat,” she said.
Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal, Jan. 2, 2012, New Smyrna Beach coat project warms bodies and souls, by Valerie Whitney, staff writer.