ELKHART — It’s getting cold outside, and Susanna’s Kitchen is doing something to help people battle the chill.
On Tuesday, the Elkhart soup kitchen kicked off its annual coat giveaway, a season-long event that draws dozens of people from 11 a.m. to noon every Tuesday and Wednesday to pick up free winter coats.
The giveaway started four years ago when volunteers at Susanna’s Kitchen saw a growing need in the community for warm winter coats.
“We saw people come into the kitchen wearing multiple sweatshirts, even the little ones,” said Jim Piechorowski, a volunteer at the soup kitchen. “We wanted to do something about it.”
Since then, Susanna’s Kitchen has handed out hundreds of coats, giving away 600 last winter. This year they’re off to a good start with more than 50 coats handed out on Tuesday alone.
On Tuesday, the agency started with 69 coats donated from the community and 72 from the Burlington Coat Factory in Mishawaka. The Burlington Coat Factory will continue to give Susanna’s Kitchen free coats each week in conjunction with One Warm Coat, a national organization that coordinates coat donations. However, the soup kitchen is still seeking donations from people in the community.
Susanna’s Kitchen has a variety of coats for all ages and sizes. Men’s coats line the left wall, women’s coats are on the right and children’s coats are along the back. Clients are invited to select one coat but will be allowed to pick out additional coats after Christmas.
“We want every coat to find a home,” said Gerry Watkins, the volunteer in charge Susanna’s Kitchen’s clothing giveaways. “The last thing we want is waste.”
Because the soup kitchen serves mostly adults, leftover children’s coats are sent to WOW, the after-school program in the basement of Elkhart Central Christian Church. There, Piechorowski gives coats to kids who cannot afford heavy winter clothing.
“We try to make sure at least the little ones have something warm to wear,” Piechorowski said.
The giveaway has been well-received by Susanna’s Kitchen clients, said Watkins, who monitors the coat room. Clients typically pick out their coats after eating lunch at the soup kitchen, which serves meals every weekday from 11 a.m. to noon.
Lisa Elkins, an Elkhart resident who picked out a purple coat on Wednesday, said she appreciates the coat giveaway each year.
“It’s been very helpful,” Elkins said. “Keeps me warm in the winter. Keeps my granddaughter warm too.”
Susanna’s Kitchen is located in the basement of First Congregational Church at 431 S. 3rd St. For more information or to make a coat donation, visit their location or call 574-522-5893. (Editor's note - The initial number provided to us for those wishing to make a donation was incorrect.)