The Best Birthday Gift of All
I have always loved fall. It consists of sunny days and cool nights plus the perfect temperature. The sights, sounds, smells and colors are amazing.
If you know me, you quickly understand I am from West Virginia. A friend recently sent me a fall photo from West Virginia. Growing up in Charleston, I was surrounded by hills with colorful trees. I always loved the time of year of my birthday, not for personal gratification, but because the birth date was near the peak of the leaves showing off their many colors.
With respect to the birthday itself, I always enjoyed giving gifts instead of receiving gifts. I grew up with a philanthropic heart. I will always be that way. Isn't it always better to give than receive?
For 28 years, every fall, three organizations in Indianapolis have worked very hard as partners to see that more than 4,000 children receive new or gently used winter coats, hats and gloves: The Salvation Army, Tuchman Cleaners and NBC affiliate television station WTHR-13. The credit for this idea goes to Jim Dunn, former president of Tuchman Cleaners. He took his idea to Bob Gregory, a now retired WTHR-13 weatherman. No one knows better than meteorologist Bob that Indiana winters are very cold and snowy. The annual program name is Bob Gregory's Coats For Kids. There are various additional corporate supporters that make this program a success, including the Indianapolis Colts NFL football team.
When this program was established in 1986, Jim and WTHR-13 approached the Salvation Army with a plan for success. They felt you needed a television station to promote the event for several weeks in the pre-winter season. They also believed you needed a major dry cleaning company to clean coats for distribution to children. They also wanted a partner organization that had the human resources to collect financial donations, secure donated coats and organize a distribution day event where coats plus other winter items could be given to families. The three partners joined forces and are still going strong today, more than 200,000 coats later!
The 2014 program was launched on television Sept. 1 with public service advertising. Coats could be dropped off at Tuchman Cleaners. On Oct. 5 at the Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens game, representatives from various partners surrounded the stadium. Approximately $9,000 in cash and 3,100 coats were donated from fans going to the sellout game. The cash was used to buy additional coats, hats and gloves. Adding results from other collection sources, these totals have continued to swell to approximately $25,000 in cash and 9,000 coats — the most cash and coats donated in one year during the history of the program.
Why do I love this program so much? It is simple yet complex at the same time. It takes the resources, staff and volunteers of several organizations to pull it off.
Distribution day is held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. Whether it is sunny, rainy, snowy or hailing, more than 4,000 families line up outside the fairgrounds several hours in the dark, before the 8 a.m. door opening, because they need winter garments for their children. It is a family affair because parents need to bring in their children to be fitted. To see the joy in the eyes of these children when they receive their new coats is amazing. The gift of giving is wonderful. I wish each coat donor could meet his or her sponsored child at this event. This act breeds greater acts of kindness and generosity.
I do not know about you, but I am deeply saddened by the constant state of negative affairs in this world. Many families abroad and in our own community continually experience despair and sadness. If we can do one thing
to make their day happy, let's do it, regardless of what it is.
Think about ways your organization can partner with others to help those in need. It may stir your passion toward others. I will be at the Fairgrounds at 6 a.m. on my Oct. 18 birthday, ready to work at least 12 hours to see thousands of people smile through the philanthropic act of giving. I cannot think of a better birthday gift. In fact, this is the best birthday gift of all! Thanks, Jim and Bob, for making this dream a reality.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.