United Way coat drive wraps Central New York in warm wishes

By Renée K. Gadoua

During a typical shift at Bonefish Grill in Fayetteville, each server rolls 50 to 100 sets of silverware in navy blue, cloth napkins. There’s a certain art to the repetitive task. “When they’re not rolled correctly, they look like burritos,” said Samantha Coleman, restaurant manager. “I never minded it when I was a server, but they dread it.”

For the third year, she’s offering an incentive for servers to get out of the tedious job. Each coat donation to United Way of Central New York’s Share the Warmth collection exempts servers from silverware rolling for a shift.

“They all got excited,” Coleman said. “They can choose a day to get out if it and there’s a little competition.” At least half the restaurant’s 15 front-of-the-house employees had donated by mid-December. “A lot of them have donated multiple items,” she said.

The restaurant at Fayetteville’s Towne Centre also is giving out coupons for an order of the chain’s popular Bang Bang Shrimp to customers who donate to the coat drive. “Our customers always donate,” she said. “Everyone loves their Bang Bang Shrimp. I like the incentive.”

Coleman estimates the restaurant gave out at least 250 shrimp coupons last year.

United Way of Central New York is partnering with COR Development Company to collect new and gently used coats and other winter items to share with our neighbors who need them. Donors are invited to drop off items through Jan. 2 at bins at participating COR Development retail tenants. In addition to coats, we are collecting new mittens, new hats and scarves, and new socks.

Thirteen businesses at COR’s Towne Center at Fayetteville, Syracuse Inner Harbor and COR Center in Clay are collecting clothing, said COR marketing manager Merissa Lynch. The sites are:

Bonefish Grill, 600 Towne Dr., Fayetteville

TOPS, 5351 North Burdick St., Fayetteville

COR Development Company, 540 Towne Dr. Fayetteville

Shoppes At Towne Center, Towne Drive, Fayetteville

King David’s, 317 Towne Dr., Fayetteville

Walgreens, 101 Towne Dr. Fayetteville

YMCA, 200 Towne Dr., Fayetteville

Pascale’s Wine & Liquors, 105 Towne Dr., Fayetteville

Iron Pier Leasing Office, 720 Van Rensselaer St., Syracuse

Aloft Syracuse Inner Harbor, 310 West Kirkpatrick St., Syracuse

Price Chopper, 3863 NY-31, Liverpool

Sola Salon Studios, 3845 NY-31, Liverpool

Gertrude Hawk Chocolates, 3873 NY-31, Suite 189, Liverpool

COR first partnered with the United Way for its 2020 Mother’s Day drive. “Members from our team met the recipients of these care packages at the Salvation Army Ethel T. Chamberlain Women’s Residence,” Lynch said. “Hearing firsthand how much these packages meant to these mothers was very inspiring.”

COR, which previously partnered with other nonprofits for winter holiday drives, contacted United Way about partnering on Share the Warmth. “COR believes in giving back,” Lynch said. “We believe in in helping those in need and supporting the local community we live in.”

The development company supplies logistical support. “We have the locations and labor and support to be able to collect these important items,” Lynch said. Employees at the company’s main office work with United Way to sort and deliver donations.

Share the Warmth is the last of three collections the United Way of CNY is collaborating on this holiday season. In early December, we distributed more than 1,000 personal care packages, created from donated hygiene items like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes. We also partnered with  local companies and organizations to collect new children’s books, which we gave out at the Dec. 15 Salvation Army Christmas Bureau distribution in Syracuse.

Two weeks before the coat campaign’s deadline, Bonefish had collected more than two full bins of donations. “Sometimes people are cleaning things out, or they’re out shopping or they say, ‘Hey, I just got some $5 gloves and I picked up an extra pair,’” Coleman said.

One donor received an incorrect order from Amazon. “They told her not to send it back,” Coleman said. “She donated a new coat and gloves with the tags on.”

The donation bin “is always overflowing,” Coleman said. “There are at least 30 to 40 coats and a lot of hats and scarves.”

That generosity does not surprise Helen Hudson, AFL-CIO community services liaison for United Way. “We put out the call and folks through labor unions, the community, United Way come together and collect warm coats, boots, shoes, whatever is needed,” she said. “People step up. They know there’s a need.”

Previous winter coat drives have helped about 300 families. “This year the need is bigger because of the pandemic,” Hudson said. “People are challenged to stretch their resources.”

“Syracuse is a city that opens our borders and opens our doors,” she added. “We have families from Afghanistan coming in who need a helping hand.”

With or without incentives, Central New Yorkers are historically generous, Hudson said. “A lot of that generosity comes from the people who have the least to give,” she said, “I don’t think that will ever change because we do care for one another here.”

Hudson has a simple message for the holiday season as we approach the third year of the COVID pandemic. “I’m going to encourage folks to think about those folks around us who are a little more stressed than usual,” she said. “They could be your neighbors.”

Renée K. Gadoua is a writer and editor living in Manlius.