GALION — Some local business owners in Galion have teamed up to help make winter a little warmer for area residents in need.
Laura Johnson, owner of Cake & Icing at 114 Harding Way West in Uptowne Galion, and Brian Tinch, owner of The Tigers Den in the Galion West shopping center, are collecting and distributing winter coats for those who need them.
For Johnson, making winter coats available to the public has been an ongoing act of love for people in her community who are in need.
“I started it about four years ago,” Johnson said. “I noticed a lot of guys coming in who didn’t have any coats. And then I’d see people walking up and down the street who didn’t have coats. Then I had a grandma who couldn’t afford a coat, and I thought, ‘What better way to get people coats than to have a coat drive.’”
Johnson said the response to the inaugural coat drive was overwhelming, both from the standpoint of donations received and the number of people assisted.
“Our first year, we ended up with over 300 coats, but we gave away over 200,” Johnson said. “What I had left we ended up taking over to the Harmony House for the people who use the shelter there. We take all the leftover coats to them every year.”
Harmony House Homeless Services, Inc. operates a 54-bed shelter in Mansfield. The facility has space designated for 34 women and children and 20 men. It has a full-service kitchen and provides meals, food, laundry services, personal care items, toiletries, and bedding.
Harmony House also provides comprehensive case management, which includes referrals to community resources and setting and following goal plans. Harmony House is located at 124 W. Third St. in Mansfield. For information, go to its website theharmonyhouse.org.
After several years of operating the program out of her shop in Uptowne Galion, Johnson said she reached out to Tinch this year after seeing that he, too, was interested in starting a winter coat drive. They decided to collaborate in hopes of reaching more people.
“I figured why not team up with Brian,” Johnson said. “We could get the people in the mornings when we’re open and he’s open in the afternoon and evening. I close at 1 p.m. and he opens at 2 p.m. so he could get the ones in the afternoon. And he sees a lot of kids, so I gave him quite a few of the kids jackets.”
Johnson said already this season, she’s given away between 150 and 175 coats. Tinch said he’s given away about 80 coats at his location alone.
“The coat drive is going really well,” Tinch said. “It’s been amazing how many people have been bringing coats in. The K & B Laundromat has been washing them for free. We’ve been working with (Cake & Icing) and other businesses in town to make this work. I’ve got two more good-sized donations coming in this week that are at the laundromat right now. There’s not a week that goes by that people don’t drop in and drop off two or three coats.”
Tinch said he’s received more requests for children’s coats in smaller sizes as well as plus sizes for men recently.
“There’s a lot of people calling for 3x, 4x, but we’re completely out of them, and we’re completely out of the real small sizes,” Tinch said. “We’ve got everything in the middle right now.”
Johnson also noted that she gives away more men’s jackets than any other kind, so donations of men’s size coats are always gladly accepted, she said.
Since its inception, the winter coats program has been open to anyone in need with no stipulations placed on anyone, Johnson said.
“There’s no income verification. There’s no age requirement. If you need a coat, come in and get it,” she said.
Johnson said the winter coats program has expanded to the point where people come in and trade out coats if they need a different size for a child.
“Kids grow so fast,” she said. “Why go out and buy a $100 coat? If you can get it on the kid, they wear it for six months — if you’re lucky — and then they outgrow it. I know how fast my kids grow, I thought why not just do something that would benefit the entire community.”
Johnson said the employees at her store (Rick, Jackie, Deb, Caren, Jen, Julie) make it possible to do the coat drive each year.
“Without them, there’d be no way to do this,” Johnson said. “They’re the ones who put it into motion. I just have the platform to do it.”
Johnson said they will accept donations of coats through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, and will keep distributing them throughout the winter months. To make a donation, contact Johnson at 419-468-1101 or Tinch at 567-393-9572. You can also send them messages through their business Facebook pages.