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