Warmth at Christmas: Winter Coats and Kindness

Christmas warmth arrived early at Work Options for Women last week.

MaryLou, a WOW supporter in Arvada, has donated winter coats for our students’ children for the past several years. Picking up this year’s donation last Thursday was my first encounter with MaryLou. I thought I was going to make a quick donation pickup and drive back to the office with a handful of children’s winter coats in the back of my car. Simple as that.

But when I pulled up alongside her garage, I was amazed.

Firstly, she had nearly 20 children’s winter coats in all to donate to Work Options for Women, with sizes ranging from toddler to 13 years old. The coats formed a small mountain in the backseat of my car, and I had to push them in to keep them from tumbling out and to get the car door to close.

“Could you use some hats and gloves and scarves too?” she asked.

I followed her into the house, where she said she has lived for 27 years. But my eye wandered as we passed through the garage. Lining one wall were at least 15 plastic bags, if not more, labeled with various ages and genders in black marker — “4 boys, 8-10” or “2 girls, 4-6” — with coats and other warm gear stuffed inside. Once she finished her exchange with WOW, MaryLou would get into her car and begin that day’s trek to grade schools.

While she looked for the right bag, I stood in the entrance to her living room. Her home was well lit by the morning sun and the adjoining room was cozy, with one tall sprawling house plant decorated like a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments. She had a beautiful view of the frozen lake at the end of the drive. MaryLou emerged from her laundry room with a bag filled with additional winter gear for our students’ children.

Children's winter coats line the WOW career center in piles for our students.

Children’s winter coats line the WOW career center in piles for our students.

As we walked back to my car, I had to ask her about the bags in the garage. I had to understand why this donor, who turned 87 recently, thought of WOW every single year, why we expected her call and were so appreciative for her kindness and generosity, and who else benefited from her work.

MaryLou said that one significant encounter with a young student started what has become an annual winter tradition.

She recalled an experience she had as a substitute teacher 18 years ago, when it was one of those bitter Colorado winter days. Snow on the ground, 10 or 15 below. While ushering children in from recess in a local school district, she noticed one first-grader was wearing only a sweatshirt. No winter coat.

When MaryLou explained to the child that when it gets colder he should really wear his winter coat to school, he had an answer ready for her. “It’s my brother’s turn to wear the coat today.”

One coat to share among his siblings.

During the ensuing school period, MaryLou said she drove to Goodwill and picked up a winter coat for the first-grader. But that moment got her to thinking:

How many other school children are going without each year?

Because of the dedication of this one woman, so many children in our community will be much warmer this winter season, including 15 of our students’ children. We only hope we can spread as much warmth as MaryLou does.

Stay warm this season, friends, both inside and out.

Work Options for Women students, staff, and board wish you a lovely holiday season and a happy new year!