All bundled up: United Way distributes more than 400 coats to kids in need

Boxes overflowed with hats and gloves in every color imaginable outside the offices of the United Way of Johnson County, waiting for those in need.

More than 400 children were registered to take part in this year’s Operation Bundle Up and receive new warm weather gear made possible by donations from the community. Families also received a voucher to pick up a new coat at a local Meijer store.

One by one, cars pulled through the United Way’s parking lot to pick up their package. In doing so, parents were relieved to provide for their children during a difficult time.

“It’s a total blessing for me as a husband and a dad. From the pandemic, things have fell. To have a resource that is there to give them new items, that normally I could furnish but can’t right now, it’s a big thing to me,” said Quentin Parker-Baskin, who was picking up items for his 10 year old and 2 year old. “It brings tears to my eyes to have resources around here to help families out.”

Through the generosity of local businesses, donors and sponsors, Operation Bundle Up again ensured no child in Johnson County braved the coming winter unprepared. By Friday evening, the United Way of Johnson County had given out coats to 412 children.

“For some families, they are on a very, very tight budget. That additional cost of a winter coat makes them choose between food, utilities, rent,” said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County. “This eases the burden of the winter season on our families who are working but really struggle to make ends meet.”

Operation Bundle Up is an annual helping program that gets coats and other winter gear to needy families throughout the county. Hundreds of coats are distributed annually as part of the program.

Last year, the agency served 426 kids. In past years, nearly 1,000 coats have been given out to local children and families who need them.

Traditionally, the United Way gathered the community together to “shop” for various coats. Families, after registering for the event, could come through and pick out the styles and sizes that best suits their children.

But with the pandemic raging last year, organizers shifted the way it collected and distributed the coats. Registering families would indicate the coats they needed and for whom, and those packages would be handed up in a drive-thru event.

The Franklin Meijer location offered to provide the coats, and a long list of donors, including area churches, local organizations such as Franklin Rotary and the Johnson County Community Foundation, and businesses made sure Operation Bundle Up went off seamlessly.

With the success of 2020, and the uncertain status of the pandemic as they were planning, United Way leadership decided to do a drive-thru distribution again.

“We really had to start making decisions on this in early September, and at that point we were really high in (COVID) numbers,” Plake said. “To distribute coats in person, we just didn’t feel like it was safe to do that.”

Once again, donors helped contribute to the event to make all of the winter weather gear available. Meijer pledged vouchers so that families could pick up coats at the Franklin, Greenwood or Southport locations. Other contributors included Johnson County Community Foundation, Metro Ministries, Horizon Bank, Franklin Rotary, Edinburgh United Methodist Church, Grace United Methodist Church, HeavenEarth Church, Honey Creek Church, Smith Valley United Methodist Church, Janette Koon, and Waddell and Reed.

“It’s really refreshing to know that our community will come together and stand behind the United Way and support us, especially when we need to change things and do things a little bit differently,” Plake said. “We’re really pleased that they were able to come together again and help get coats for 412 children for the winter season.”

For Leslie Mull, Operation Bundle Up allows her to provide coats, hats and gloves for her 6-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son that she might not otherwise be able to buy herself.

“I’m a single mother of two, and I’m working six days out of the week, trying to provide for both of the kids. By the time winter comes around, I don’t have money for coats and stuff,” she said. “This is a huge help.”

Sabrina Guinn had registered to get coats and items for her two kids, ages 4 and 6. Being able to get warm clothing before winter arrives is a huge help for her, and something that shows how unique Johnson County is in terms of providing for people in need.

“This county seems to have really good resources,” she said. “It’s probably the best resources of any place I’ve lived so far.”