East Rowan teen conducts coat drive

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 5, 2013

A TV commercial gave Hailee Buffett a cool idea — keeping people warm this winter.

Hailee’s mom, Lyndy Buffett, saw the spot for nonprofit One Warm Coat — which aims to provide coats to needy people — toward the end of November and told her daughter about it.

The 15-year-old East Rowan High School sophomore didn’t have to be convinced.

“I thought it sounded like a great idea,” she said.

So Hailee went to the organization’s website, learned more about its mission, and set out to start her own coat drive.

One Warm Coat’s site has a list of agencies that can take coats and pass them on to the needy but says volunteers can also find their own. Hailee knew she wanted to collect for Rowan Helping Ministries, where her cousin, Austin Lyle, works, and where she and her grandmother volunteer. Hailee helps in the kitchen.

“I thought this was something different where I could still be helping Rowan Helping Ministries, but not just food this time,” she said.

Hailee’s mom works at Saleeby-Fisher East Rowan YMCA, and her boss agreed it could be a drop-off point for coats. Lyndy also told friend Christine Sparger, who got Mc’N’Tires Automotive in Rockwell to accept coats, too.

Sparger also got her two sons, Jimmy and Jonathan Ritchey, involved in the effort. The family organized a clothing drive last year that ended up filling East Rowan’s cafeteria with donations.

“That was a big hit, so when I heard about this, I knew it was a good thing, because we helped a lot of people last year,” said Jimmy, a 16-year-old junior at East Rowan High.

His brother Jonathan, a 14-year-old freshman at the school, agreed.

“I thought this would be very helpful … especially since a lot of people don’t have jackets for cold weather,” he said.

A lot of local people will have them now. When she started the coat drive Nov. 24, Hailee got the word out on her social media sites, and her school made an announcement about it. The response was immediate and hasn’t let up.

Classmates have given, JROTC classes are collecting, and the community is filling up donation boxes.

“It’s actually been a lot better than I expected,” Hailee said. “Coats have been coming in like crazy, and we need all of it.”

On Thursday, Hailee and the Ritchey brothers sorted through a 45-gallon plastic tote full of donations at the YMCA. Along with coats, it held jackets, sweatshirts and hats. Some were less than clean, but Hailee said she’d wash them.

Donations of scarves and gloves are welcome, as well, she said.

The teens say if they get more coats donated than Rowan Helping Ministries can accept, they’ll give them to the Family Crisis Council and local homeless veterans.

They’re all givers already, as members of the Jr. Civitan Club at East Rowan. Hailee’s also a member of the Key Club and SADD, and serves on the student council. Jimmy and Jonathan are JROTC cadets.

Lyndy, Hailee’s mom, said the coat drive is a “really nice way for her to give back” and for the quiet sophomore to ease out of the shadow of sister Katelyn Buffett, an outgoing senior at East Rowan.

“It’s so awesome,” she said. “It opened my eyes that she can do her own thing and be a leader, too.”

It opened Hailee’s eyes, too. She’s never taken on a project like this, she said, but she’s already planning next year’s coat drive.