When Starfish Assignment was established in July 2018, we asked Columbus Division of Police officers we could help them with. Even in the heat of summer, many of them told us, "We need winter coats for kids."
In late autumn of that first year, we ran a coat drive to help these officers keep their neighborhood kids warm. We managed to obtain about 250 coats, and they were dispersed by the officers in a matter of days. We hoped we'd be able to do better this year.
When we met our friends at AEP Ohio in the spring of this year, one of the projects we discussed with them was our coat drive, and they were instantly interested in getting involved. We are thrilled to report that, thanks to them, we have been able to establish a three phased approach to handing out coats this year. The first phase is a massive donation of over 500 coats, sold to us at a huge discount by our friends at Walmart. Columbus Police officers (and their kids!) helped us pick them up and deliver them to a central location, where the Columbus Police Cadets unboxed them for us and laid them out so the Community Liaison Officers (CLOs) could come in and get exactly what they needed for the people in their precincts.
We've already heard stories from some of the CLOs about how these coats are being put to use, and please keep in mind that many of the CLOs passed them on to patrol officers to give out as well. One officer told us that he dropped off coats at an elementary school, and when he was returning to his patrol vehicle, a middle schooler got off her school bus with nothing more than a blanket wrapped around her. He stopped her and asked her about a coat. She didn't have one, so he took her into the school and helped her find one that fit. Another officer took coats to CATCH Court, which helps human trafficking victims turn their lives around, and gave them to kids there. Others gave coats to kids who they also adopted for Christmas, giving them presents in addition to coats.
The second phase of the coat project you may have read here earlier. It was during Heroes and Helpers, when we were able to purchase coats for every child and their sibling that needed new coats. There was one bigger boy who marveled over the fact that he actually had a coat that fit him. There were a host of happy kids overjoyed about their coats, and relieved parents who whispered thanks. But on Saturday, we learned a story that really hit us hard. There were two adorable, smiling sisters at the event who'd picked out pretty coats and had been giving hugs to the officers. What we didn't know was that they'd nearly missed the event because it had taken them two hours on the bus to get there from the homeless shelter they were staying at. The officers told us their mom had been so grateful for the coats she'd been in tears.
The third phase of the coat project will kick off in January, after the kids return from winter break. We'll work with the officers to identify any obvious needs for coats and to place orders for those. We're also going to have a supply of coats on hand for the officers in precincts such as South Side, South Linden, and the Hilltop to hand out to children they see who need them as the cold drags on. We'll keep you updated on the project.
We want to thank our dear friends at AEP Ohio for not only supporting our vision, but for being flexible when we asked to change the initial plan from one large donation of coats to this three pronged approach. We cannot imagine a better partner, and we are so lucky to have you.