A Rhode Island-based department store chain plans to donate a record number winter coats to veterans in Massachusetts and the rest of the Northeast.
Ocean State Job Lot, with a store in North Adams, expects 42,000 coats will be doled out thanks to its fourth annual Coats4Vets campaign. The number is a far cry from the roughly 1,000 coats handed out in the first year of the philanthropic effort, according to Executive Director of Ocean State Job Lots Charitable Foundation, David Sarlitto.
He says, through regional veteran support agencies, the winter apparel is distributed in all of New England, eastern New York, northern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. The retailer has a total of 142 stores in the nine states.
“The coats have started to make their way to veterans and the bulk of them will soon be distributed,” Sarlitto said in a phone interview with The Eagle. “At least 1/3 of the coats will be given out in Massachusetts which as the most stores with 51.”
In the commonwealth, Sarlitto says Ocean State distributes the coats through three organizations: Massachusetts Military Support Foundation Inc. (MMFSI), Cape Cod Veterans Foundation Inc. and U.S. Veterans Foundation.
Company officials, through an email, say the coats eventually reach local American Legions, VFWs, federal Veterans Administration hospitals and other groups.
Typical, the distribution begins after the holidays, but this year it started sooner according to MMSFI ice president of development Barbara Foley.
“Usually we start in January, but we stepped it up and started early,” she said in an Eagle phone conversation. “Normally, we go across the state and distribute the coats, but due to COVID-19, we couldn’t do that.”
MMSFI kicked off its distribution on Dec. 8 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough where local Massachusetts police departments sent representatives to pick up coats, along with masks and snacks for homeless veterans in their areas.
Foley says the next step is to work with state senators to devise a plan to ensure coats reach all corners of their districts in the coming weeks.
Coats4Vets runs from Thanksgiving week through the new year. A customer who buys the designated winter coat can turn it back to the store for resale and receive a $40 gift card to use at Ocean State stores. Sarlitto says this is no different than buying the coat and returning it for a refund. Otherwise, the customer can simply keep the coat, he said.
He noted the coat bought and given back is physically not the coat that will go to directly to a veteran. The coats being distributed are unwrapped and boxed and ready to ship to participating veterans organizations.