News, Success Stories

AmeriCorps members get coats to New Hampshire kids in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

A man smiles and wears an Americorps shirt
A man smiles and wears an AmeriCorps shirt

A coat drive complicated by COVID-19

What started as a community service opportunity in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day grew into a passion project for Mitchell Young, a Goodwill NNE AmeriCorps member serving in New Hampshire with the Nashua School District. The result? Over 250 pieces of cold weather apparel delivered to people in need in the community.

Mitchell began his AmeriCorps term with Goodwill in September. He serves as a participant in the Multilingual Leadership Corps, an AmeriCorps program that serves English Language Learning students, providing social, emotional, and academic support to help them overcome barriers and succeed in and out of school.

In the fall, Mitchell, along with two fellow AmeriCorps members and two Goodwill NNE AmeriCorps staff, began meeting to plan a service project for Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a national day of service and “day on” for AmeriCorps. With the pandemic in full swing, many fellow members were not comfortable with projects requiring physical interaction, and most standard MLK Day projects had been called off. The group struck upon the idea of a winter gear drive, with donations sourced from community members and brought to other locals in need.

Mitchell took the idea and ran with it. Since the Nashua School District operated remotely and with reduced school hours, he had time and energy to spare — and he dedicated them to the service project.

A mother and daughter stand in line at a Americorps coat drive
A mother and daughter stand in line at an AmeriCorps coat drive

Community outreach

He started with research and outreach. The city of Nashua’s website led him to a community page, where he learned about the city’s cultural committee and the Greater Nashua Continuum of Care, among other organizations. He emailed and called some two dozen community contacts. COVID, as always, presented a struggle: not only are people busy and overworked, but all communication had to happen virtually.

“It would have been so much easier if I could actually meet people, and I wasn’t solely relying on them responding to my emails. It was a lot of outreach. You just need to make 1,000 calls and emails, and not be surprised when most of those go ignored,” Mitchell said.

Thanks to his outreach and perseverance, Mitchell’s web grew. His efforts led to connections with the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter, the Arlington Street Community Center, the Nashua Area Interfaith Council, and the Nashua Senior Activity Center. A plan emerged: The soup kitchen had a large stock of winter coats from a drive earlier in the winter, so the team organized distribution days where community members in need could pick up a coat from a booth staffed by Mitchell and one or two other AmeriCorps member volunteers in a convenient location.

Then COVID threw another wrench into the plans. Mitchell was exposed to someone who had tested positive a week before the distribution days were to occur, and they were forced to cancel.

Back to the drawing board.

Bags of donations of kids coats
Bags of donations of kids coats

Bringing coats to kids in need in New Hampshire

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day only a few weeks away, Mitchell resumed outreach (after fortunately dodging the virus). He got in touch with principals in Nashua, pitching a coat drive in collaboration with the schools. Birch Hill Elementary School, Broad Street Elementary School, and Nashua North High School were interested. Mitchell and the principals scheduled one afternoon for donation drop-offs at each school, and Mitchell put together fliers and planned a gift card raffle to incentivize donating.

All the details ironed out, Mitchell was still nervous. Would people even donate coats? If he got 10, he would be happy. But when the week of the drive arrived, Mitchell and the other AmeriCorps members were blown away each day as gear arrived by the bagful. Ultimately, they collected 254 donated goods total, consisting of 95 winter jackets and various additional sweaters, fleeces, scarves, socks, hats, and rain jackets.

Mitchell got the coats to community members and to students in the school district, by way of the principals.

Mitchell hopes the coats will help many New Hampshire students feel good — and warm — this winter and beyond. He also hopes that his perseverance, outreach, and execution laid the groundwork for similar projects in the future. What an amazing effort of national service, capacity building, and community giving to increase stability for those in need.

A young man wearing a mask for COVID safety
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