Never too young to care.

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We were delighted to receive a wonderful message from one of our kind supporters and donators.

Carys Morgan had to write a poem at school about what celebration meant to her. What she wrote in the last sentence made her mum think of Project Winter Coat and thought we would like it.

We did more than like it, we loved it! How amazing that a girl at the age of just 10 is tasked to think about celebration, but still has the heart to think of those less fortunate. It doesn’t stop there, she has also taken spare clothes out to the homeless in Leeds.

What a special little girl. We would be mad not to share Carys’ beautiful words.

Thank you so much.

What Celebration means to me
To me celebration is:
Drinks with all their fizz,
Celebration music playing,
Fun is not delaying.

All the late nights and games,
And the high sugar aims,
Mum and Dad with their peroni,
And pizza with hot pepperoni.

Special meals and drinks,
It just fly’s by in a blink,
Families together all around,
McDonald’s wrappings on the ground.

But celebration makes me think,
And that thought makes me sink.
Some people are not happy today
People on the streets with not enough say.

I bet its hard seeing people having fun,
Having no family, no daughter, no son.
They can’t do anything really about it,
Do you think they’re having fun? No I doubt it.

Seeing all the presents, money and warm hats,
And knowing that you will never have all that.
Seeing family laughing all together,
And knowing you don’t have a family. It’s been liken that forever.

And that is why when the music is loud,
I take some time away from the crowd,
To sit and think and wish it was fair,
I wish more people would take more time to talk to them with care.

By Carys Morgan, aged 10

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Ever decreasing circles. 

Tonight we stood and talked to one of our friends for the best part of an hour.

He talked of his recent time spent in prison, where he got clean. But on his release he is handed an order for rehab, but has nothing. Nowhere to stay, no money to attend the rehab which will undoubtably mean back to prison. And the only place to turn is back to the streets. And so the cycle continues. Begging, stealing, drugs and alcohol. A life on the streets, labelled by him as the only life he really knows. 

Desperate for a warm and safe environment he dreams of being able to break the cycle. But he doesn’t get the break. And so that circle keeps turning. An ever decreasing circle where as we stand and talk, we are all thinking that there will come a time where the circle becomes so small, it will cease to exist, as too will he. 

He told us of his life. It seemed from an early age his life choices could only be described as those that would send any parent to despair. He didn’t hide the fact, his story was an open book. But boy was it a colourful story. He had us laughing more than we had laughed in a long time. The places he had seen, the things he had done, the ‘big’ ideas he had that would change everything for him. But they didn’t. His ever decreasing dreams had gotten so small, the dreams had ceased to exist. 

Imagine developing pneumonia due to sleeping under the cold harsh skies, only to be actually thankful that you did because that means 3 weeks in hospital. 3 weeks of guaranteed meals, a bed, faces to talk to, safety. And after those 3 weeks you’re told to find somewhere to stay that night, with the promise that the very next day you’ll be contacted with somewhere to stay. But the contact never comes, and so the circle keeps turning, for now anyway. 

And so your thoughts turn to that prison cell. It becomes his closest thing to a safe and warm environment, the closest thing to a home. And so the cycle continues. In, out, round and round, it keeps turning. And every turn it decreases, ever so slightly. Until it becomes so small it ceases to exist, as too will he. 

800 to the power of three. 

 We walked up to get our weekly coffee in high spirits tonight. We met lots of new faces and felt as though we had made some impact. 

What a difference five minutes can make. And with this comes a different kind of blog this week. It’s not a piece that reflects on the weather, nor does it skim over the people we’ve met, telling snippets of stories. 

Tonight we dedicate this blog to our pregnant couple. Tonight we dedicate it to Jodie and Dean. 

We thought, in the nicest possible way, we’d seen the back of them. But any sense of hope we had talked about in previous blogs disappeared tonight. 

Sat having a drink and reflecting on the night, we heard a familiar voice. Cue Dean. Stood at the end of our table wearing that usual cheeky grin. We invited them to join us. And so, with the heaviest heart of all, the story begins. 

Jodie and Dean found housing, of sorts. But it fell through. So they were back to square one. A lamppost for a bed side light, stars for a roof and eachother arms for warmth. They’d managed since to get a few nights here and there in accommodation. But every day hung on how much money they could find. Whether or not a pregnant girl slept on the streets or in a bed rested purely on the kindness of strangers. 

They spoke of their childhoods, their past, their dreams and aspirations. Dean is full of life, he has a will to get on and provide for his partner, and the life growing inside her. He’s skilled, he worked as a plasterer until the accident. He fell from scaffolding, with an employer who had no insurance, he lost his job, and lost everything.

They’ve both fallen on hard times in their lives, and genuinely not because of their choices, but the choices of those around them, those who’s job it was to care and provide for them, and at the very least keep them from harm. They then had to bury their tiny son, what parent should ever have to do that? And now, as their unborn child grows and gets ready to make its debut, Dean has just one wish, “I just want the chance to be a good dad”. Silence fell. My lip began to tremble, eyes filling up. I looked around the table, I wasn’t the only one. 

Finally someone spoke, asking what they needed to get a place of their own, without having to sit on an eternal waiting list. Turns out, the council will pay the bond and the rent, but they would have to pay the first months rent and the credit checks. All in all, around £800 tops. Which they obviously don’t have. 

It seems impossible, yet so simple. £800 will give them the start, the first step in writing a very different story. Think of the possibilities that would provide. With Jodie and their unborn child safe, Dean could start looking for work, they could start build a life and live their forever. I sat wishing I had the money. We all sat wishing we had the money. 

£800 stands between ‘accommodation’ or a home. £800 stands between an existence or a future. £800 stands between a family yearning to succeed, or a family potentially set to be destroyed and torn apart. They’ve already lost one child. £800 says they could lose another. Imagine as a parent having to face even the thought of that. It’s a painful and unthinkable notion.

Tonight will be one of those nights we never forget. It will be one of those nights that will never be far from our thoughts. Tonight will be one of those nights that will make us meet up during the week to try to find a way to help them, to give them the break they so desperately need. 

So tonight we dedicate our blog to Jodie and Dean. Our promise to you is that we will do everything we can to give you the opportunity to be the mummy and daddy you long to be, that you deserve to be. 

One degree until bedtime. 

  

One person with one idea one evening. That one idea lead to one project to make a difference. Even if to just one person.

One house filled with donations. Piled high thanks to one city that holds some of the most generous people we have ever been blessed to be able to reach out to. One person who is kind enough to donate. That one person, possibly you reading this right now. Without you, we have nothing. Zero. 

One day a week. Nothing. A small piece of our lives to try to reach out to somebody less fortunate than ourselves. 

One chance to meet somebody who could use a little help, by coincidence or fate. One chance to give food and clothing to get dry for a little while. One pair of socks, one less chance of catching a cold. One coat for warmth and for comfort. One sandwich, one less reason to rifle through a bin. One sleeping bag, one reason to make the night seem a little less lonely, maybe. One conversation to make somebody feel like they matter. 

One more Sunday hitting the streets, one more chance that we might be blessed enough to make a new friend. 

One more bitterly cold evening, tonight covered in a blanket of snow with no sign that winter is leaving anytime soon. 

When the temperatures drops to zero degrees, the churches open their doors for the homeless to sleep in at night. 

Tonight was one degree. 

Just one degree would have changed everything. Just one degree of difference. 
 

Once upon a time.

If we thought it had been cold on our previous outings, it paled in comparison to Sunday. We woke up to snow gently falling and sitting quietly on the surface it chose, quietly contemplating whether to stay or go. All day we had commented how cold it had dropped. Still, we weren’t quite prepared for such a chill. The cold snatched our breath, forming clouds that danced around us casting shadows with the help of the street lights.

We packed up and set off in good time. Last week our friends had settled down for the night earlier than previous nights. As the cold weather punishes, the sensible thing to do is to find shelter and try to maintain the little body heat that the ice cold hasn’t yet stolen.

We took to the side of the Alhambra, taking our usual route, to the usual places where we meet and share donations. The panto had just finished and we managed to get a couple of celebrity endorsements! They were keen to hear what we were doing, and so we happily shared our story. Who knows, maybe they will share it, and maybe other people will feel like they too can make a difference.

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We saw quite a few of our usual friends, huddled up in blankets in doorways desperately trying to maintain some sort of heat. It seemed our offerings of food and hot chocolate was welcomed more than any night before.

We met a new friend. A young man from Lithuania who sat in a doorway so he could access the free wifi. He sat there each day so he could contact his sister back in his homeland. He had come here to work but had fallen on hard times and now had nowhere to lay his head, nor did he have the money to get home. To get any help from the government or council he had been told he needed a residency order. But he couldn’t get one. Imagine actually having no choice, no way to help yourself, no way home. Imagine being completely lost in the world. How must that even feel?

We spent quite a bit of time with Paul and Lady. She was snug as a bug in a rug! Tucked up in blankets and a coat, toasty warm. Paul, as usual putting his beloved dog before himself. He said thank you to us for sharing the donations and giving them food and drink. He said Lady couldn’t speak, so he would speak for her. As he said that the most wonderful thing happened. Lady got up from her warm and safe bed and came over to each of us, giving a little lick on the hand and allowing us to give her a pat. It was as if she was saying, “don’t you worry, I can speak for myself!” She was once so nervous at our presence, but now she completely trusted us and was happy to be our friend.

Paul had a friend alongside him. It was the first time we had seen him. It turned out he was new to the streets. We can’t go in to details as his situation is with solicitors and we don’t want to  jeopardise anything where that is concerned. But it left us completely sickened. When did we as humans stop caring? When did empathy sit so low on the list that is became an after thought? Money may make the world go round, but it doesn’t make your heart smile and it doesn’t gently take you in it’s arms at the end of a bad day and make your heart warm. It reminded us of just how quickly life can change, that life is precious and we should never take anything for granted.

There was no appearance of Woody. We looked forward to seeing him, we always walked away from our conversations smiling and honestly believing that no matter what your circumstances, there is always time to feel thankful for what you have, and of course, always time to smile.

For about the third week we haven’t seen the pregnant couple. We all genuinely feel full of hope that they are settled, warm and safe as they prepare for their new life, and their new family. Maybe happy endings do happen after all. Maybe fairytales aren’t just a thing we can only dream of…

Wrap yourselves in love people. And don’t ever stop.

As always, if you wish to find out how you can donate, you can find us on Facebook at Project winter coat. Or contact us at projectwintercoat@outlook.com

A time to survive.

Jack grew up in care from eight years old. Jack was pretty much failed by his mother, then the system, then his mother again. Jack thinks it is him that, and I quote, “is a f*ck up”. We think Jack is one of the most genuine people we have met on our journey.

Jack survives. 

Jack went to Niche for his Christmas dinner and was kitted out with lots of clothes. Jack hid the clothes, as they all do, along with another man. Jack left the building 20 minutes after the other guy. The other guy walked at the other side of the street and hurried on by carrying a black bin liner. That black bin liner contained the things he had been given, plus Jack’s hidden belongings. 

The other guy survives. 

Woody never got any help for housing since the ‘arches evictions’. Since he was given ten minutes to move what he could and his world was thrown on the back of a council van, tip bound. Woody sleeps elsewhere now. Tonight Woody strutted across the street with the new clothes we gave him. Like Superman he reappeared from the phone box with fresh threads on. His spirits high once again, a far cry from the shadow of his former self we saw last week. No longer did he see no way out, but was once again hopeful and full of his contagious charisma. Woody does what he has to, to get by. And for that, although we don’t really want to know about it, we admire his determination. 

Woody survives. 

Tonight we thought we had found a body in a deep dark corner of the city. In a place tucked away, a place damp and cold, like something from a film. The kind of film that sees you hiding behind a cushion, or the kind where your hands, without knowing, crawl up to protect your eyes. Where curiosity pulls your fingers apart, and you don’t want to but you can’t help but look. Our hearts hit our throats with a clatter. We stood motionless for what felt like forever. That body turned out to be nothing but a folded duvet and a trick of the eye caused by the haunting light in the deep dark corner, hidden in our beautiful city. That was someone’s home for the night. 

Hopefully they survive. 

The man who showed us the ulcers on his leg. Struggling to pull his rain drenched jeans above the swelling on his ankle. Revealing skin so infected we stood in shock at how he genuinely was still walking around. We implored him to go to the hospital, to get any sort of help. With infection so bad the reality is that he could become really sick.

The man may not survive. 

Our pregnant couple were nowhere to be seen tonight. They didn’t come and find us, they weren’t hiding in any of the usual shadows. We can only hope one of the viewings they went to see this week turned out to be successful. We were somewhat sad we hadn’t seen them, worried of their fate. But hopeful that maybe, just maybe, they were sat in their new home preparing for the next chapter in their lives. 

Maybe they’ve survived. 

Maybe their unborn child will survive too. 

We realised tonight, it’s not actually homelessness that bothers people. As long as it’s out of sight. Because if you can’t see it, it isn’t real. Right? 

But what we know is that is doesn’t matter how tightly you close your eyes, or your mind, it takes nothing away. Homelessness is everywhere. Moving them on and pushing these people to the dark corners of the city where even shadows daren’t go only serves to ease the conscience of our local authorities in their plight to improve the image of our city. 

And so we will continue to go out every week to help our friends survive. For no other reason than to try to make a difference, no matter how small. We will continue to take food, hot drinks, clothes and hope. And we will shine lights on those deep dark corners of the city so the shadows dare to dance. And we will more than likely dance with them, probably hand in hand. Let’s not allow the people of the streets to be shadows anymore. Let’s tackle this head on. 

Let the shadows survive. After all, that’s what we all try and do. Survive. Don’t we?

Take a moment to think about it. What would you do to survive?

A time to reflect. 

Tonight the words are stuck. They won’t flow, find any sense of rhythm, in fact they won’t make any sense at all.

We’d no sooner got out of the car tonight and Woody met with us. He was a completely different person to the vibrant, animated and festive man we had met last week. You could have mistaken him for a completely different person. He was down and feeling completely out. The wind well and truly knocked out of his sails. It was pretty much as we had expected. Woody hadn’t been housed, he’d not even been given shelter the very same evening that the council and police tore through his home and took it apart piece by piece. A man’s home is his castle. To us it was an archway, to Woody it had been his castle. But not anymore. He’d taken refuge in a tent that night, but that too had been ‘taken down’ by the authorities. And so it turned out that his castle had quite literally been ripped down twice that night. We gave him some replacement clothing, a coat and a sleeping bag. And of course food. As always he was humble and polite. I think we all walked away feeling a little broken hearted. Silence fell, but the silence was deafening. 

If the grinch was real, he’d undoubtably have a BMDC parking permit.  

But our evening continued. Meeting old faces, new faces, smiling faces, defeated faces. Tonight we met Darren and Tara. We’ve met Darren many times, tonight we were introduced to Tara. A couple united by the very streets we stood on, and in fact expecting a child together. They raised the mood somewhat with their festive cheer. Darren had written a wonderful piece around utilising empty buildings in the city. That will no doubt become a blog on its own.

It was a bitter sweet seeing Dean and Jodie, the young pregnant couple. They’d seen us and caught up with us to stock up on clothing and food. We were happy to see them, but sad they’d not secured a home yet. But with two house viewings tomorrow they were upbeat and we hoped for the right result for them. We stayed and talked for a while. Dean putting Jodie’s needs before everything else, as always. Selfless in his actions, completely and hopelessly in love. Their story never fails to make a huge impression on us. How a slip from scaffolding at work can change absolutely everything. It brings home just how fragile life is.

Maybe it was because Christmas was just around the corner that the air felt colder, felt sadder, if that’s possible. Tonight hope seemed far away, like it had upped and left, just checked out without any regard for the destruction it left in its path. 

I heard someone say, “Christmas is a time for people to be with people who they love”. It’s not always the case though is it? Sometimes the person you love is out of reach, out of sight. Sometimes life takes a turn and right there and then everything changes.

I think this year for us, Christmas will feel very different for each one of us. I think as we open our gifts, sit to the table with people we hold dearest, it will mean much more than it ever did before. 

Merry Christmas one and all. May your Christmas be wrapped in love. 

Once again, thank you all so much for your donations. If you would like to donate, please message us via our Facebook page, project winter coat or email us at projectwintercoat@outlook.com

I’m homeless, but I’m human.

Was I always going to be here? No I was not. I was going to be homeless at one time, a taxi driver, truck driver, or any kind of job that would get me a crust of bread. You never know what’s going to happen.

Morgan Freeman

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Rain had lashed down for most of the week, and as we rose on Sunday morning, for the first time we noticed the frost had kicked in and left a layer of sparkling ice in its wake.

As we met up, it was clear we knew how cold it was, another week, another layer of clothing on each of us. We sorted, tagged, and packed up. This week we decided to add to our bounty of chocolate bars with hot chocolate and chicken sandwiches.

We were busy from the off this time. We met with some regular faces, but lots of new ones too. And we thought this week might be a good time to share some stories, because everybody deserves a voice, right?

Grotto

As Christmas approaches, our city is decorated with lights, shouting of good will and peace to all men, shops adorn beautiful window displays and the market stalls fill the air with Christmas songs. But we saw the best Grotto of them all. One of the Forster Square arches clad with Santa signs, snowmen and tinsel. Why? Because the man (Woody) who slept their wanted to spread the festive joy. He just wanted to make people smile. Because he explained, “just because I am homeless, it doesn’t mean I’m not human”. That was one of the most humbling things we’d heard. Of course he is a person too, just like us and you. We loved it. We stayed a while and chatted, feeling festive and thankful that he had shared his Christmas spirit with us. We can’t wait to get back next week, he has big development plans for it!

We were giving out drinks when a chap approached us. He told us how he had donated to the cause, that it had struck a chord, now happily married with children, he had once been homeless. Sleeping in local woodland, doing all he could to keep warm and nourished. He spoke to the people we had met. Shared stories and gave advice. We all stood back and took it in. It was magical. One man who could give frank and honest advice, because he had been where they were. He did more that evening than we could ever do, no matter how many coats, drinks or sandwiches we gave out. He gave hope. He was homeless, but he’s human.

We spoke to an ex serviceman. He’d served three tours for queen and country yet found himself in a situation he didn’t feel strong enough to get out of. Finally he had taken the courage to ask the British Legion for help, something he had been too proud to do until now. But he had taken the step, for him a giant leap to change his situation. And as he waited on news of some housing, with grand plans to turn his life around, we hoped this would be the last time we saw him on the streets. He’s homeless, but he’s human.

We met a man, face to the ground, scanning the area for something to eat. A muslim man banished from his family for drinking. We spoke of the western culture, a generation where life is so different to the religion he had once loved, and lived by. “Does God not accept us for who we are?” he asked. How do you answer that? So now he wanders the streets, thinking of a family that couldn’t accept him, that wouldn’t accept him. He’s homeless, but he’s human.

And Thomas, how can we forget Thomas. Slightly jealous that Woody’s Grotto was apparently getting attention on social media he insisted on being in a photograph with us. He packed the sleeves of his coat with chocolate and sandwiches. Thomas has one of the best sense of humours ever, quick witted, dry, a typical British humour. His life is seemingly taking a positive turn with the help of a new key worker. He was hopeful and upbeat, and looking forward to whatever the future may bring. He’s homeless, but he’s human.

We met a couple last week. She was shy, reserved, maybe you could even say embarrassed at first. He adored her, anyone could see. His eyes lit up when we spoke about her. They told us their story. For the rest of the week it’s all we pretty much thought about, and talked about. This week we met up with them again. This week she was chatty, relaxed, at ease. Which was a good thing, because the last thing you want for a pregnant woman is to cause them stress.

It starts with that all important test. Weeks go on, excitement mounts. Picking out a cot, tiny scratch mitts and baby showers. The breath taking moment seeing the life you created on a screen, the heart warming feeling of that first flutter. Perfect right? 

So imagine being offered shelter over 120 miles away from the father of your child, your soul mate, your everything. And when you say no, no I need to feel the safe arms of my partner around me at night, he just wants to take the journey of the little life we have made alongside me, please don’t break up my family, you are declared voluntarily homeless. So you have nowhere to go. The communication between you and your family is so fractured you can’t seek refuge with them. There is nowhere to turn. Your refuge becomes the cold ground, a doorway, anywhere, everywhere under the stars. The arms of your soul mate aren’t unpacking the self assembly cot, or building the pram. Instead he has one arm around you, giving you his body heat, and one across your stomach, protecting that brand new life. And because you are voluntary homeless there isn’t actually any call for anybody to rehouse you. Because this is your choice right? You chose to fight to keep your family together. 

The moment the soon to be dad pulled out the neatly folded scan picture from his pocket and proudly shared his son or daughter with us is the moment your heart cracks, breaks, shatters. As he did, the pride beamed from him. Just like any expectant parent, full of love. 

He’s homeless, but he’s human.
She’s homeless, but she’s human.
They’re unborn child, homeless, but human.

If you would like to find out where you can drop donations, please message us via our Facebook page by searching, project winter coat or email us on projectwintercoat@outlook.com

#wrapyourselfinlove and gloves

  
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Homelessness is everywhere, and it can happen at any time, for many reasons. A loss of job, a divorce, a broken childhood, a broken dream. The more we venture out, the more we see just how easy it can be. 

We meet the most wonderful people when we are out. Characters so full of life, full of gusto. You can’t help but wonder how some of them came to be in the circumstances they are. It makes it all too real that actually it could so easily be us, or you. One choice, one decision, one step in the wrong direction. It really is, quite simply, as easy as that.

The first time we went out, we found it difficult to get people’s attention. They thought there would be no way we would speak to them. The second time we found that word had got round a little, we exchanged pleasantries, they talked a little. This week we found that people were looking forward to seeing us, and were much more relaxed standing and talking to us, sharing stories, some heart breaking, some hopeful. Now they see us as people, just like them. Now they ask our names.

We don’t proclaim to be trying to end homelessness, not by any stretch. We just want to make things easier. We try to put ourselves in their shoes. It’s cold, and it’s windy, winter is grabbing hold with no sense of regard. There are floods in and around our beautiful county, but we can go home, batten down the hatches, protect ourselves and our loved ones to the best of our ability. Imagine being exposed to the ice on the ground, and the chill in the air. When you’re at home, trying to get warm; nice cup of tea and extra thick socks. They’re on the street trying to find a dry patch of ground, blowing into their hands, anything just to make it through another night. In its simplest terms, imagine actually not having a roof over your head. Imagine not having the basic things that we take for granted. And it’s because of this being at the forefront of our minds, that we choose to do this. 

Tonight, one of the guys we met asked us why we do what we are doing. The simple answer is, because we can.

With the twists and turns and turbulent times in our world, we now realise that one small act of kindness can mean so much. There doesn’t have to be a motive. It is possible that love can exist, and be passed on to others. 

Thank you so so much for all the time you’ve taken to sort your belongings and drop them off. Please keep the donations coming. Without you, this project is absolutely nothing. 

If you would like to find out where you can drop donations, please message us via our Facebook page by searching, project winter coat or email us on projectwintercoat@outlook.com

We end tonight with the words of our new pal Lightening, “Too-da-loo”.

A moment to last forever. 

Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier. 

Mother Teresa 

We headed out a little later this week. We figured we might get the chance to meet more people if they were settling down in their spots for the night.

We weren’t wrong. We had been out only a few minutes and two chaps approached us, “you’re the guys helping us out aren’t you?” We quite literally couldn’t believe it. Word had got around quickly. We also armed ourselves with chocolate bars and socks that had kindly been donated, even a couple of sleeping bags. These proved hugely useful. 

If we thought last week was cold, we had a shock this week. The wind howled through buildings, the damp air wrapped around us, that ‘cold to the bone’ sort of feeling. But that said, we wouldn’t be sleeping in the thick of it tonight like the people we met.

  
We met some real characters tonight. Some telling us tales of their misfortune, others much quieter, but each and every one sending us on our way with a thank you, and a smile. And then there was a truly beautiful moment, as we turned the corner, one guy turned to his pal, thinking we were out of ear shot and said ‘oh wow’ with such excitement in his voice. It was such an emotional moment that will last with us for a long long time, possibly forever. 

What is great is that we are learning more every time we go out. We are finding out where to go, creating meeting points to give donations, and meeting some great characters. But more importantly our eyes are being opened to what life is like for people living on the streets, and how we can help, no matter how small. Any difference is better than no difference at all. 

We walked away tonight having distributed all the wonderful donations we had. Now we need more! Yet again, every single person who donated has helped to wrap someone in love. And to you we say thank you on behalf of everybody we had the privilege of meeting tonight. 

Please keep your donations coming. Particularly men’s coats, gloves, scarves and hats. We are clean out!

Thank you all from Project_WinterCoat.