Hanna Whalley of Mattapoisett, an eighth-grader at Old Rochester Junior High School, initiated and organized a coat drive that led to the collection of over 200 jackets and coats for distribution to the homeless in the greater New Bedford area.
Whalley said she was inspired by her father who has been volunteering on the Salvation Army Canteen food truck and told her stories about people who came to get food.
“Many of them lived on the street or a car or some basic shelter, yet they did not have any warm clothes,” said Whalley. “That’s when I decided to approach my school’s principal, Mr. Coellner, to see if he would support a coat drive at our school.”
Whalley asked her mom to also reach out to Mrs. Bowman at Center and Old Hammondtown Schools where Whalley attended in prior years, “And they said yes right away,” said Whalley. Then, Whalley’s father contacted several key people at the Salvation Army who helped coordinate the distribution of all the collected coats.
“It was incredible to see this 13-year-old girl stand up and say: ‘I want to do something good, but I need help,’ and all these people immediately respond: ‘Yes, we will support you,’” said Whalley’s mother, Monika.
Everyone worked as a team, from the principals who sent reminders out to the students, the secretaries who kept in touch with the Whalleys about coat drop-offs, and the teachers – some of who were coat donors themselves – that encouraged the students to participate.
“We even heard a rumor about homework passes for students who remember to bring in a coat,” Monika Whalley said.
The rest of the team – the community – responded with open hearts and, in just one short week, donated over 200 pieces of clothing.
It took two cars to haul the coats over to the Salvation Army.
Whalley said her effort made her feel “very happy” and she is overjoyed with the outcome.
“People couldn’t believe that we got so many coats in such a short time,” Whalley said. “It showed me that there is a lot of good among people and that one person can make a difference.”
The used coats were distributed on Sunday, November 24, following a meal that serves the homeless and needy at the Salvation Army in New Bedford. There were some new coats with the tags still on, and these will be used for the Neediest Families Fund, a collaboration project.
Whalley said it felt “amazing” when she received some news on the people who received one of the coats generously donated by the people of Tri-Town and delivered by Whalley’s family.
“They were all very grateful,” said Whalley. “My dad told me that there was a couple who live in a tent. It was raining all day on Sunday and their tent got wet, but at least they had warm dry clothes to sleep in.”
Whalley said she would like to organize another drive in the near future with a focus on personal hygiene. In the meantime, Whalley will be out in the area ringing the bell for the Salvation Army donations with her parents.
“And I am planning to go out on a food truck again with my dad,” she said.
Whalley hopes the generous spirit of the season will spread further, and encourages us all to participate in programs specific to the holidays such as “Adopt a Family”, and there is a never-ending need for non-perishable food items for the pantry that supplies the meals served by Salvation Army and the Mobile Ministries.
For specific information, those interested can contact the Salvation Army directly at 508-997-6561.