BCAC winter-weather clothing distribution

Racks of new winter clothes for children are ready to be distributed to families Saturday, as part of the Berkshire Community Action Council’s winter-weather clothing giveaway at the BCAC office in Pittsfield. For applicants who meet income-eligibility requirements, the BCAC coordinates pickup times to distribute bags, each of which contains a coat, warm outfit, boots — and a bag of Halloween candy.

PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire Community Action Council has given away coats to local children each winter for 40 years, but the need this season has been particularly large.

“We’ve definitely seen greater numbers this year,” said Stephanie Bosley, BCAC’s director of community partnerships. “We’ve had families apply this year who never had before.”

Four BCAC staff members and eight volunteers from the Rotary Club of Pittsfield spent Saturday morning handing out bags of winter-weather clothing to people driving through the parking lot of the BCAC’s Pittsfield office. For applicants who meet income-eligibility requirements, the BCAC coordinates pickup times to distribute the bags, each of which contains a coat, warm outfit, boots — and a bag of Halloween candy.

It is realized, though, that Saturday drive-thrus make for a safe and convenient way to get the packages distributed.

“We have to handle it so differently this year with COVID,” said Executive Director Deborah Leonczyk.

And these aren’t just items dug out of people’s attics; all the clothing that children receive is brand new.

The BCAC, which hands out about 1,000 packages each year in Pittsfield and an additional 1,000 in North Adams, got some help last year from the North Adams and Williamstown Rotary clubs, as well as the Northern Berkshire Santa Fund.

This year, the Pittsfield Rotary worked with Operation Warm, a national nonprofit, to provide 175 coats for the BCAC drive. The Rotary’s board matched members’ monetary donations, and additional giving came from outside the group, said President Shaun Heimann.

“People were very generous, and this all came together, literally, in two weeks,” Heimann said.

Through Wednesday, the BCAC will continue taking applications for children up to age 12, Leonczyk said. Caregivers in Central and South County can call 413-418-3668, and those in North County can call 413-663-3014.

People also can call those numbers to sponsor a child or make a monetary donation.

With the need in the community high, the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult to find funding.

“Small businesses are closing,” Leonczyk said. “People are out of work.”

The BCAC lost sponsors that had covered up to 150 children, said Aleta Moncecchi, a BCAC deputy director for North County.

“We’re hoping to get more donations to get more coats out,” Moncecchi said. “The goal is to get the clothes out before December.”

Yet, some have persisted, such as Crane Currency, of Dalton, which has provided $7,500 for the BCAC to make purchases.

“I feel like I’m cleaning out stores in Western Massachusetts for boots,” Leonczyk said with a laugh.

The Pittsfield Rotary, the local chapter of an international group that promotes peace and service, has made an effort to “be smart and place money where there’s a need,” Heimann said.

Pittsfield Rotarians recently celebrated their group’s 100th anniversary, and they have moved their annual auction, which Heimann calls a “signature event,” online for February.

The group opted not to spend money near the start of the pandemic, when there was more government aid going to people. Instead, it has sought to spend in a “specific, targeted” way to meet community needs, such as through the coat drive.

“Clearly, there was a need in the community, and it was a great opportunity for us to get involved,” Heimann said.

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.