Keeping warm: Fire department offers coats to those in need

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Now is the time of year when Lt. Johnny Leatherwood and the folks with Blount County Fire Department spread the warmth.

They’re not giving out Christmas presents, but they are giving something invaluable - coats, gloves and toboggans to those who lack the proper clothing for winter months.

In its eleventh year, Coats for the Community is a program that the Blount County Fire Department uses to give coats to adults and children who are in need.

Leatherwood said the program is based out of Station Four at 411 South and Calderwood Highway.

"We take new or used, clean coats, and we bring them into our Station Four," he said. "We launder them and hang them."
From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, the station is open for anyone wanting to pick up a coat.

"The only question we ask is if they have a smoke detector," said Leatherwood. "If they do not have one, we install one in their home."

Leatherwood said Coats for the Community started after John James with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office asked the fire department to help with the effort to get coats to those who don’t have appropriate clothing for the winter months.

In addition to the firehall pick-up point, firefighters visit schools throughout Blount County and its municipalities and the schools supply them with a list of students who may need a coat.

"We’ll go to the schools and put a coat, toboggan and a pair of gloves on each kid," he said. "The second year we used a church van to go to schools. It didn’t work well. You had to pile them in and dig through them. The next year, I borrowed a friend’s horse trailer and hung coats in the horse trailer and we were on top of the world."

By the fourth year, the firefighters began using their department-owned concession trailer. They annually took the concession equipment out, installed temporary racks and took the coats to the schools, he said.

"This year, we’re fortunate we have a trailer dedicated to Coats for the Community," he said. Like the coats inside the trailer, the trailer was paid for through donations."

Leatherwood said the public can donate money to buy the clothing or simply donate the coats, toboggans and gloves. For those making monetary donations, Leatherwood said donors can make checks out to Blount County Fire Department Coats for the Community.

"We buy a lot of new coats. We’re thrifty with the people’s money. One of our biggest supporters has been Old Navy at the Tanger Mall in Sevierville," he said. "They give us deals. We buy coats for practically nothing. Another real good supporter has been Kmart."

Leatherwood said that although the firefighters work hard to help those who need coats and warm clothing, they also try not to embarrass anyone in need.

"We try to be as discrete as possible," he said.

At the schools, teachers send two children to the trailer so they can shop. "They pick out something they like. We try to do it about two children at a time in the trailer. That protects their privacy," he said. "We’re not out to embarrass anybody."
Giving each person who asks for it toboggans and gloves in addition to coats is new.

"Up until last year and this year, we never had enough gloves and toboggans to go around, so we never said anything," he said. "Now we have enough. We can give all the kids a toboggan and gloves. The program keeps growing and growing. The people of Blount County have been so supportive of this."

Drop off points for donations are:

  • All Alcoa, Blount County and Maryville fire stations
  • Rural/Metro stations
  • Jones Equipment Co.,
  • JJ Screen Printing
  • Tarpley Signs
  • Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse
  • Kmart
  • Office Depot
  • Steve Irwin’s State Farm office
  • Walland Center
  • Chilhowee Baptist Center
  • Tractor Supply Co.
  • Waste Not - Want Not
  • Belk Department Store
  • Blount County Mayor’s Office.

Blount County Fire Chief Doug McClanahan said Coats for our Community not only puts coats on kids and adults who may not have something warm but it also gives fire personnel a chance to ask about working smoke detectors.

"If they don’t, we put one up. It’s an (initiative) of our fire prevention program," McClanahan said. "It’s another way we can make sure everyone has a working smoke detector, and they’re safe as well as being warm.

"If they don’t have a working smoke detector and need one, call and we strive to get that detector up before they go to bed," McClanahan said. "We sleep better knowing they’re protected."

For information on subscriptions, to donate to Coats for the Community or for information about obtaining a smoke detector, call 865-981-2133.

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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