Sharing the Warmth

The weather is still steamy when Officer 1st Class Joseph M. Ridley of the Annapolis Police Department (APD) starts gearing up for the department's annual "Coats for Kids Day," held in December at The Salvation Army on Forest Drive. Encouraged by his supervisor, Cpl. Castor Redondo, Officer Ridley swings into action in mid-summer to coordinate all the details involved in providing coats for children who might otherwise be shivering this winter.

It all started five years ago, when APD Officer Pete Medley was on foot patrol in the Clay Street area on a particularly frigid night. He noticed a little girl with her teeth chattering as she walked along the street and asked why she was out in such cold weather without a coat. "But I don't have a coat," she replied tearfully and ran up the steps to her house.

Officer Medley and several of his colleagues resolved to do something for children whose families could not afford winter clothing for their kids. Shortly after his poignant encounter with the Clay Street resident, Officer Medley heard about a program in Virginia that solicited donations of coats for needy families and, in 1998, he started the APD "Coats for Kids" campaign.

Medley is now a detective on the force, and coordination of "Coats for Kids" has passed to Officer Ridley in the department's community service section. It is one of several community outreach programs attached to the Governor's Crime Prevention Initiative, introduced by former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and continued by the Erhlich administration under the acronym of C-SAFE (Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement).

C-SAFE (formerly known as HOTSPOT) has centers in Eastport and in Parole. Officer Ridley works closely with Ruth Jones, executive director of the Center for Hope, a non-profit in Parole that also serves as a C-SAFE center. Jones had been soliciting single-handedly for years to get donations of warm coats for her clients, many of whom hail from warmer climates and never saw the necessity of buying winter clothes for their children. When the APD started "Coats for Kids," Jones was able to partner with them and expand a program that had formerly relied on contributions from the Annapolis Junior League and donations from local church groups.

APD's other "partners" include Admiral, Rainbow and Zips cleaners. These Annapolis businesses volunteer to clean and store the garments donated by people throughout the area as well as serve as drop-off stations. "We view 'Coats for Kids'as a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community by helping those most in need," says Whitney Kerridge of Admiral Cleaners. Admiral, with 25 locations in Maryland, has had its own "Call for Coats" program since 1993. Since 1999, Admiral has been directly involved with the APD campaign. Rainbow Cleaners and Zips Cleaners are also key players in the campaign, cleaning and storing the garments until distribution day.

Another important partner is The Salvation Army on Forest Drive, where the annual "Coats for Kids Day" is held. The 2003 gala event is scheduled for Dec. 3, and Officer Ridley and Cpl. Redondo anticipate a big turnout. "This is always a great day for everyone involved. Last year we distributed some 800 clean and warm outer garments to people in need," says Renee Powell, director of social services for The Salvation Army.

Food Link, an independent non-profit Annapolis-based charity that has attracted national attention for its work, is also an active partner of the APD's campaign. On coat distribution day, volunteers from the organization carefully arrange the garments on The Salvation Army gym floor. "We make it a wall-to-wall display, arranged in rows for boys, girls and adults, too," says Cathy Holstrum, executive director of Food Link. "It's fun to watch the little ones pick out anything with sparkles or a bit of fur."

Other scenes stand out in the memories of the people involved in the event. Officer Ridley remembers the young boy whose eyes grew wide when he spied a military-style bomber jacket displayed on a table at last year's giveaway. "It fits me," he said excitedly to his mother, whose own eyes were misty as she adjusted the jacket on her son. Jones tells of a 6-year-old girl, who jumped up and down when she spied a beautiful "Sunday best" outfit of a matching coat, hat and gloves. "It was like the story of Cinderella and the glass slipper," recalls Jones. "Everything fit like it had been specially made for that child."

And where do all these coats come from? "From folks who hear about the campaign and want to help out," says Officer Ridley. In addition to the Junior League and area cleaners who donate unclaimed garments to the cause, people from Annapolis and surrounding areas bring coats to the Annapolis Police Station on Tyler Avenue, to area churches, to participating cleaners and even to Navy basketball games, when on a specially designated night they get free admission in return for a winter coat. The main drop-off site for donated coats is the Annapolis City Police Department.

For more information on how to become involved with the "Coats for Kids" campaign, call the APD at 410-268-9000.

Mary Lou Baker is a veteran freelance writer who has lived in Annapolis since 1968.


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