Coats for a cause: Letter carrier delivers winter warmth to local children in need

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Michele Devins (left), 59, a letter carrier from Southgate, accepts a coat donated by Carolyn Sohoza, 45, of Allen Park at Out of the Box Theatre in Wyandotte. Both women were in the cast of the show.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Times-Herald Newspapers

SOUTHGATE – Because she knows the difference a good coat can make in cold weather, Southgate letter carrier Michele Devins, 59, quietly collects and delivers new coats to local children in need.

“I’m a letter carrier. I know how long it takes for hypothermia to settle in when the wind chill is 20 below and you are walking to school,” Devins said. “No kid should have to do that.”

Devins started collecting and delivering new coats to Downriver school children a year ago when a teacher friend mentioned that some of her students go to school without school supplies or the proper clothing.

The next time she went shopping with reward points from a local store, she didn’t see anything she wanted for herself, so she decided to buy a coat for her teacher friend to give away to a child in need.

That first coat donation went to a kindergarten boy returning from lunch.

“She said, ‘Here, try this on,’ and she put the coat on him and said, ‘Would you like to keep that?’” Devins said. “And he just very shyly nodded yes. I was just standing there bawling.”

She said the second coat she gave, which had a leopard print on it, went to a kindergarten girl whose teacher said she did not want to take it off.

Normally Devins does not know which children receive coats, and relies on the teachers to get them to the recipients.

She shared her thoughts on Facebook, and asked her friends if they wanted to join her in supplying new children’s coats.

“My family and friends stepped up with coat donations and cash and reward points and coupons,” Devins said, “and through that I was able to come up with 50 coats that went home with kids last year.”

She believes it is important to give a young child a new coat.

“If the kid needs a coat, chances are they’ve never had a brand new coat that is their own,” Devins said. “And nothing makes you feel better than wearing something that is brand new, especially if it is all yours and it wasn’t your sister’s or your brother’s or picked up at the thrift store. I just think it’s really important for the kid’s self-esteem.”

She said sometimes the new coats she donates replace coats with broken zippers, coats that do not fit or that are not appropriate for the cold weather.

She said her friends have been very generous helping her with her new coat cause. Recently, the Downriver Actors Guild, where Devins performed in “Young Frankenstein, The New Mel Brooks Musical,” offered a free ticket to anyone who attended and donated a new child’s coat.

“We really have been trying all along to put the word ‘community’ back in community theater,” DAG artistic director Deborah Aue said. “And we really want to be contributing members.”

Aue said DAG challenged other community theaters in the area to follow suit and offer special ticket pricing or deals to patrons who donate a new coat when attending a performance.

“Think how many kids we could help,” Aue said.

Carolyn Sahoza, 45, of Allen Park, and fellow cast member in “Young Frankenstein” donated a coat to Devin’s drive because she said she loves children and the idea hit home with her.

“Just the idea of some child going home without a coat or not being warm enough is something you don’t really think about,” Sohoza said. “You hear a lot about food. You hear a lot about utilities and things like that. You just don’t think about some kid who is walking to school and is not warm enough because they are still wearing their spring coat.”

Devins said there is an equal need for boys and girls coats, and smaller sizes are more in demand. She said she and other supporters hope to take advantage of post-Thanksgiving Day sales to purchase more children’s coats.

Despite the perceived wealth of some communities, Devins said all have families in financial distress and children with unmet needs.

Coats she donated have gone to elementary age students in Lincoln Park, Melvindale, Southgate and Brownstown Township.

She said that she and a friend who has been financially generous to her coat drive came from large families and wore hand-me-downs when growing up.

“I never had a new coat that was my own when I was growing up,” Devins said. “And I found out through this whole thing that it had hit close to home for him as well.”

She said she feels it is important to help children, especially when the parents are unable to provide for them.

“Some of these kids are coming from homes that don’t have heat in them,” Devins said. “So to think that they are not only wearing it out on the playground, they might be wearing it at home, too, to keep them warm when they go to bed at night.”

For more information about how to help Devins with the coat drive, send her an email at postalprincess64@yahoo.com.

“If they want to contact me with a donation or a need, then they can certainly get in touch with me,” Devins said. “I will do it as long as the coats and the money hold out.”

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