Makenzie Smith, 16, of Borden, Ind., a sophomore at William W. Borden High School, has collected nearly 25,000 coats and thousands of hats, scarves and gloves over the past eight years to help people in need stay warm during harsh Indiana winters. When she was in the second grade, Makenzies teacher had a talk with her class about how they all should be grateful for the advantages theyd been given. She told us that the winter was going to be really cold and that many people do not have the simple necessities in life such as a warm coat, said Makenzie. The idea that people were cold in the winter really bothered her; she went home and told her parents she wanted to collect coats for people who need them. That was the beginning of Makenzies Coat Closet.
In the early years, Makenzie simply asked friends and family members for coat donations, stuffed them into a large trash bag and delivered them to the local Society of St. Vincent DePaul. The first year she collected 79 coats. By the fourth year, she set a goal of 1,000 coats and knew that to reach her goal, she would have to find a better way to gather donations. She came up with the idea of using collection boxes so people could drop off outerwear at businesses, churches, schools and neighborhood sites. She also needed to make more people aware of her project, so she began seeking interviews with local media, speaking at churches and corporations, and communicating through social media and a website. Today, Makenzie has 100 collection sites and typically takes in 4,000-5,000 coats a year. Once she collects the donations, a team of volunteers sort and size the coats, then deliver them to St. Vincent DePaul, hang them on hangers like at a department store, and allow people to choose coats for themselves and family members. The people we help have so many obstacles and struggles in their daily lives, said Makenzie. I know that what we do helps to ease some of those struggles.