He wanted a red coat.
I don’t know his name. He didn’t say. In fact, he didn’t say a lot, probably due as much to the fact that he was the only boy in a group of four females as to his own natural temperament. I could see where it would be hard to get in a word with his grandmother and three more ebullient sisters alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) taking charge.
But he did manage to tell me he wanted a red coat, not the blue one that had been picked out for him.
So we found him a red coat. A Land’s End one, with fleece lining and a tag inside that said it had once belonged to Michael. But on this day, distribution day for Austin’s 19th annual Coats for Kids event, it had a proud new owner.
We caught up to his family, red coat in hand. His grandmother first resisted the switch. In a tone that was polite but firm, she pointed out that she had already chosen a coat for him. The implication was clear: She didn’t have time to waste, what with her three granddaughters, much pickier shoppers, still looking for coats.
But when, with the little boy standing quietly at my side, I told her he said he really wanted a red one, this one, she relented. A quick, but thorough (she was a pro at this) inspection and she approved the switch. And for the first time he smiled.
I don’t remember what coats his sisters got, only that they all were partial to purple. In the end, it didn’t matter. Everyone left happy and warm. Even Grandma got one, purple of course, for this year there were enough of the larger sizes so that adults shepherding the kids through the racks of jackets at the Palmer Event Center also were able to take one for themselves.
I’m usually a checkbook-charity type, giving cash and trusting others to make sure it’s spent properly on good programs. But when a professional group I belong to, the Association for Women in Communications, announced that it was a supporter of the Junior League’s annual coat collection and distribution drive, I thought it would be a good way to meet some people and help out others in my new hometown of Austin.
I’m glad I did. The few hours I spent being a coat fitter made me incredibly proud. The Junior League coordinators were efficient, friendly, conscientious and downright nice. Of course, I expected nothing less from such good Texans! And I’m sure my friend Amy, a misplaced Texan still in South Florida and a member of the Palm Beach County Junior League chapter, would be quite proud of her Lone Star colleagues.
But it wasn’t just Junior League members that kindled my pride. The center was full of volunteers -- young, old, kids with their parents, men, women, church groups, other service organizations, University of Texas sorority and fraternity members, unaffiliated individuals, multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual … and every single one of them smiling the whole time.
And while I can’t say I’m proud that any Austinite needed a donated coat -- you never want your home to be one where people want for basics like warm clothing or food -- I was pleased that people took advantage of Coats for Kids to make sure that their children (and themselves) would make it warmly through the winter.
Programs like Coats for Kids and Austin’s Blue Santa, my husband’s charity choice because he’s a firm believer that every kid should have at least one new toy under the tree, are still going on all across the United States. If you haven’t contributed to one of them yet, think about doing so. I know I’ve been beating this drum a lot this month (here, here and here), but it is the season of giving and you might get to claim a tax deduction for your contributions (although not for the time you might volunteer).
It could be the best present you give or get this year.