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Volunteer uses ‘thrifty’ approach to collect coats for kids

Imagine being a child and not having a coat for the winter, or having to wear your sibling’s hand-me-down that is too small. When JFS staff received multiple requests for children’s outerwear, they knew they had to mobilize the community. PJ Library and JFS created the “Coats & Cocoa” drive, now in its fourth year, which gives the community the opportunity to donate new and gently used coats and cocoa as fall turns to winter.

Enter Kristen Johnson, who was already purchasing coats for those in need. Johnson moved to the Lehigh Valley two years ago, and immediately got involved with the Jewish community by joining the JCC and enrolling her daughter at the Jewish Day School. 

Jewish Federation project coordinator, Abby Trachtman, contacted Kristen to chair this year’s Coats & Cocoa drive, which was co-sponsored by and benefited clients of Jewish Family Service.

“My passion is really for what I call ‘thrifty mitzvah,’” explained Johnson.
The concept is simple. Johnson tries to get the most bang for her buck while buying high quality items to donate. She saves up her Kohl’s cash and uses her Kohl’s credit card to get an extra percentage off, boosting her purchasing power when coats are deeply discounted in the spring. 

As the Coats & Cocoa chair, Johnson set up collection boxes at Congregation Keneseth Israel, Congregation Sons of Israel, Temple Beth El, the JCC and JDS. Almost 100 coats were donated in addition to the many boxes of hot chocolate. The coats collection was bolstered by the addition of brightly colored hats and scarves hand knitted by the Easton Knitting Group and Ferne’s Knitting Group. 

PJ Library held a kick-off event at the JFS Food Pantry, called “PJ Does a Mitzvah” in November, where the children helped organize the donations.

The items are now available to the families who use the pantry.

“I thought it was so brilliant how they actually had the kids racking up the coats and putting things away because it was a hands-on learning experience,” said Johnson.

The coats have been flying off the two-tiered rack, and the clients have expressed a deep gratitude for the wide range of quality choices that will keep their children warm this year.

“Johnson is clearly aligned with the Jewish Family Service Food Pantry philosophy of always striving to give both quality and choice to our clients,” said Debbie Zoller, JFS executive director. “We hope the example Johnson set for this year will continue to grow, as the need is always there.”