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‘Warm coats from warm hearts’

AS TEMPERATURES DROP, Tennessee church wraps thousands for winter.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Because of the Granny White Church of Christ, thousands of people in Middle Tennessee will be warmer this winter.
At the edge of the Lipscomb University campus, the Granny White church recently concluded its 15th annual “Warm Coats from Warm Hearts” program, in which members collect winter coats from area congregations, businesses and community members, sort the garments and give them away the second weekend in November.
The congregation distributed more than 5,000 coats this time. Since 1998, Granny White has given away more than 75,000 coats.
In the beginning the giveaway was much smaller, with the 600 coats distributed the first year coming mainly from members’ closets. The ministry expanded fourfold in 1999 after a Granny White elder helped get Nashville’s WSMV Channel 4 involved, said church office administrator Kathy Jarrell, who helps organize the outreach.

Planning for the coat collection and distribution begins long before November. Jarrell meets with WSMV in the summer to set the program timeline. The station secures additional commercial partners and, in the fall, airs spots announcing the giveaway.
In early October, Jarrell sends letters to about 100 area Churches of Christ requesting coats. Local congregations also contribute used Bibles to be made available the day of distribution. Along with the coats and Bibles, Granny White distributes food boxes.
Among the sponsors was Super Speed Wash, a Middle Tennessee chain with 10 locations. As customers pulled their cars up, employees handed them a flyer encouraging them to drop off a coat on their next visit.

Jonathan Smith, manager of a Super Speed Wash east of Nashville, collected 18 jumbo bags and several boxes of coats at his store.
“It’s a good cause,” Smith said. “It gets cold during the winter, and there’s a lot of less fortunate people out there that actually need some help.”
WSMV’s role is pivotal, Jarrell pointed out, especially the enthusiastic support of station meteorologist Lisa Spencer.
While Spencer was initially attracted to the project because of its connection with the weather, her interest deepened.  
“The more I’ve become involved with it over the years, I’ve really taken it on as my little passion,” Spencer said, speaking between live broadcasts from the giveaway. “I just think it’s such an easy way to get involved and to do something for someone else.”
While the coat program reaches out to Nashville, it also energizes Granny White members.
“It probably is our largest project,” said Scott Ellis, the elder who oversees the effort. “It gives a really good opportunity for everybody … to lend a hand and to show their faith,” he said, estimating that 80 percent of the congregation helps in some way.
In preparation for the event, youth retrieve coat racks from basement storage. People arrive early or stay after services to assist. Granny White volunteers pick up donations at 44 locations around town, Jarrell said.
“We’ve got people — men and women — going to and from the laundry room, putting in loads of coats, taking out loads of coats, hanging up coats,” Jarrell added. “If they see it, it needs doing and they’re able, they’ll do it.”

As the big day approaches, Granny White transforms its fellowship hall into “coat central,” with rack after rack of coats — arranged neatly enough to make any retailer shiver with envy.
When the doors opened for the most recent distribution, the line for coats snaked from the fellowship hall behind the auditorium all the way to Granny White’s stained-glass windows in front.
Near the head of the line just before 9 a.m., Valerie Marsh of Nashville said she staked out a place about 1:15 a.m. “I live off of fixed income, “ Marsh said, explaining that she cares for a 7-year-old grandson. “We have to get help wherever we can get it from.”
Further back, Ryan Hunton, who attends the Concord Road Church of Christ in nearby Brentwood, hoped to find coats for himself, his wife and his three boys. “I’m on a financial budget,” Hunton said. “We’ve got a lot of shopping to do this Christmas, and if we can save some money on one thing, well that’ll help out on another.”
Mimi Haggerty from Antioch, southeast of Nashville, selected two coats for herself and one each for her daughter and son. A Roman Catholic, she first participated in the Granny White program six years ago.
“I know they always have more than enough for everybody,” Haggerty said. “We thank … a Church of Christ for doing that.”

Granny White preaching minister Lane Widick sees the coat ministry as an active expression of the congregation’s generosity, family spirit and desire to meet real needs.
“You’re not going to find a group of people that bond together over something like we do over warm coats,” Widick said. “We’re just doing our best part to be a small little portion of God’s kingdom here on earth.”
For organizer Jarrell, the program is about God’s love. “This is exactly what the Bible teaches us to do,” Jarrell said. “If your heart is warm with the love of God, then you’re going to respond accordingly.”

Filed under: National

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