WILLIAMSON COUNTY -- "I challenge you to spend one day this winter without your coat and see what these children have to go through," said Jason Powell.
Powell, a member of the Heartland Rotary of Williamson County is also on the board of directors for Caritas Family Solutions. He has seen firsthand the needs of many area children when it comes to basic necessities.
In 2011, he decided to do something to combat the problem by organizing a coat drive to collect for local Head Start kids.
That initial drive has grown, thanks to the involvement of the Heartland Rotary.
Now in its official third year, the drive engaged the support of the Carterville Rotary and this year the groups dropped off 650 coats to Caritas.
"It has really taken off this year," said Powell, noting the efforts of the Carterville Rotary. "I am thrilled to see the community coming together to help."
Powell said this drive is the by far the largest, involving 32 local businesses who pitched in toward the effort.
"It's been exciting to see how the community has supported our efforts through this coat drive and I've also been thrilled to see the awareness it has raised about the work Caritas Family Solutions does in this area," said Powell. "We get caught up in the hustle and bustle at this time of year and it's easy to forget that something as basic as a winter coat could make a world of difference to a child and the foster families who care for them but it really does. We're proud to do our part to help."
Powell said that distributing the coats through Caritas was a natural choice.
Caritas Family Solutions is a nonprofit social service agency serving the southern 42 counties in Illinois whose services include foster care and independent living for adults with developmental disabilities and low-income seniors.
"They know where the need is," said Powell.
"This coat drive was amazing and we are so thankful to be able to keep our kids and their families warm this holiday season," said Janel Chamness, Caritas Family Solutions lead foster care caseworker. "We are so grateful to the community and the rotaries for their kindness!"
Powell said he hopes the drive, now an annual event, continues to grow and plans to reach out to multiple organizations in the years to come.
"Sometimes we take things for granted," he said. "We might have multiple coats in our closets but there are thousands of kids without adequate winter clothing across America. It's an issue that children can't control but one they are forced to deal with."
However, thanks to the efforts of those involved, 650 area kids will be warmer this winter.