Chicago Bears Coat Drive aids homeless

Manuel Rapada

Boxes lined the entrances to Jewel-Osco stores in the Chicago area as an annual coat drive held to help the city’s homeless kicked off early September.

In partnership with Jewel-Osco, The Salvation Army and Wm. Meyers Movers Inc., the Chicago Bears began collecting coats for its 23rd annual “Coat Drive,” running from Sept. 12 to Dec. 4.

The drive is intended to collect winter coats to help the homeless and other less fortunate individuals survive Chicago’s winters. The Bears ask donors to drop off coats at boxes outside Jewel-Osco grocery stores.

The Chicago coat drive netted 20,000 coats in 2010, accounting for a third of the coats collected and distributed to those in need, said Melanie Scofield of The Salvation Army’s Chicago Metropolitan Division.

“A coat, scarf and sweater is essential, and it’s one less thing to furnish,” Scofield said.

Some Northwestern students from the Chicago area agree with Scofield about the importance of giving those in need proper winter clothing.

Weinberg freshman and Chicago native Sara Abu-Ghnaim said winters in Illinois are “some of the worst in the country,” noting that the “Snowpocalypse” storms of late January and early February led to a two-day school closure.

Darnell Eason, a 60-year-old homeless man who sits outside Whole Foods Market, 1640 Chicago Ave., has trouble finding food in the winter. He said he has been homeless for five years, and the winter season is “real bad.”

He said he takes hamburger meat, chicken and other foods that have been thrown out.

“I can’t get food so I go to the dumpster at Jewel’s,” Eason said.

Tony Medlin, chairman of the coat drive and Bears head equipment manager, got the event rolling 20 years ago, said Ken Miller, president of Wm. Meyers Movers.

“(He is) a very benevolent guy,” Miller said.

The Chicago Bears Community Relations department could not be reached for comment.

Though Wm. Meyers Movers Inc. performs more of the behind-the-scenes work during the coat drive, Miller said he finds the work “labor intensive,” yet “pretty gratifying.” The moving company furnishes the 4-by-4 boxes to Jewel-Osco and picks them up from the grocery store chain’s warehouses, Miller said.

Miller said he also appreciates the temporary change of pace from the usual doldrums of moving.

“Most people hate us when we come (to their home), maybe even more when we leave,” Miller said.

Randy Peshak, the store director of the Jewel-Osco on Howard Street, said he thinks the local community can sometimes be very charitable.

“People always find a way to give something,” Peshak said. “Somehow … we find a way.”

Even during a sustained recession, Scofield said she is grateful for Chicago’s continued generosity.

“Everyone is affected by economy, not just those in the poverty,” Scofield said. “They have risen to the challenge to help those less fortunate and to give in self-sacrifice.”

Coats may be dropped off at the two Evanston Jewel-Osco locations, 1128 Chicago Ave. and 2485 Howard St., or at The Salvation Army, 1403 Sherman Ave.

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