LEWISTON, Maine — NEWS CENTER Maine is in the last week of its 38th annual Coats and Toys for Kids campaign. That means Mainers have until Friday, Dec. 18 to purchase items from this year's virtual wish list or make a donation to the Salvation Army.
It's no secret that this year has been tougher than most for many Maine families. That's why help from the community means so much to so many. So far, NEWS CENTER Maine has received about 7,560 purchases online and more than $25,000 in donations. At this point we're no longer collecting toys (so they can be delivered in time for the holidays), but there are a number of items like coats, boots, gloves, hats, snowsuits, and blankets that are still needed.
The Lewiston/Auburn Salvation Army location is helping 243 families this year, according to Captain DeAnna Street. She says that number represents a greater need than usual, adding a lot of people are in need of help this holiday season because they've either lost a job or a family member during the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite all of that, she says it's been uplifting to see how Mainers have been so willing to help other Mainers.
"It's been the toughest year for people," Street expressed. "This pandemic kind of caught everybody off guard, but I've noticed that our communities have pulled through more than ever, so we've actually been really blessed when it comes to donations."
The Salvation Army created the 'Coats for Kids' campaign in 1983 and established a partnership with NEWS CENTER Maine in 1990. Toys were added to the drive in 2004, and over the years, more than 870,000 coats and 79,000 toys have been collected.
The mission means a lot to mothers like Shelby Frees of Lewiston. Her son, Kol, is a year old. Frees says Kol's father works a lot but has lost hours during the pandemic, so help from the Salvation Army has meant a lot.
Frees says no one should have to choose between buying a coat for their child or paying a bill on time. She says Mainers shouldn't be too proud to ask for help.
"Sometimes even when you work hard, you still need the help of your community; you still need the help of your family," Frees explained. "At this moment, I personally may be struggling -- but when I get where I need to be at, then I can (give) handouts to people who need help... There's no shame in asking for help."
There are no coat or toy drop-offs at grocery stores this year for health and safety reasons. Instead, people can purchase items from NEWS CENTER Maine's online wish list. You can get it sent to your phone by texting "KIDS" to 207-828-6622.
You can also mail in a check to The Salvation Army to help buy new coats and toys at:
The Salvation Army
P.O. Box 3647
Portland, ME 04104
Please remember to put in the Memo: Coats & toys for Kids