Deb Malewski
Contributing Writer

Stacia Smith-Temple really didn’t know what she was getting into when she proposed collecting winter outerwear and giving it away to those in need last December.
“WANTED: CLEAN, new or used coats of all sizes and genders,” she posted on Facebook to kick off the coat drive.
“My small vision turned huge,” she said, as the little project grew from the 100 coats that she expected to give away to the well over 1000 coats that were actually distributed in the last three months.
“It was just awesome to witness,” she said.
A 24-hour clothing rack was placed outside Smith-Kitsmiller Insurance where people could leave items to donate or find things to take. The building’s overhang offered protection from the elements. Smith-Temple, the
office manager at Smith-Kitsmiller Insurance on South Main Street, was assisted in the project by Annette Adams, Mark Kitsmiller, and her brother, Jeff Smith. Adams got the ball rolling when Smith-Temple had to quarantine due to being exposed to COVID-19 in December.
Her initial plan was to give away only coats but they started receiving donations of boots, hats, and mittens. She also began to get requests for complete winterwear sets for children, which she happily fulfilled.
One of the first donations received, from the Eaton Rapids Knights of Columbus, were 25 brand new children’s coats. Every day someone would drop off coats, she said, and usually not just one coat, but often five to ten at a time.
“People were so generous,” Smith-Temple said. “We couldn’t have done this without so much response from the community.”
Local knitters made hats with pompoms and colorful mittens to add to the collection.
The project went beyond Eaton Rapids, Smith-Temple pointed out. Donations were received from the Olivet schools and the Olivet City on a Hill Church. A woman leaving for military service insisted that her mother drive from Detroit to donate all her winter coats to the project. A man from Laingsburg brought four trash bags full of coats.
When specific sizes of outwear were needed that weren’t available on the rack, Hannah’s Helping Hands, another local organization assisting people in need, helped out.
A single dad who just received custody of his three kids was able to clothe all three kids at the giveaway.
A man posted on Facebook that he needed an extra-large coat, but didn’t see any on the racks. Another individual, who had just received a bonus at work, privately reached out to Smith-Temple and offered to buy the man the coat he needed.
“I love our community!” Smith-Temple said.
Not everything was perfect, of course. A few people abused the generosity of the community, Smith-Temple said, forcing them to move the new coats inside. They were still available, but people needed to come inside to request them.
“We want to make sure that everyone who needs something is able to get it,” she explained, “and just want it to be fair.”
“It warms my heart every time I see it,” said local realtor, Laura DeLong. “It reminds me of the tiny pantry, ‘take what you need, leave what you can’. It’s another opportunity to help our neighbors, and it is a blessing all the way around.”
Smith-Temple plans on repeating the project next winter but will limit it to December through the end of January.