by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Coats For Kids is about making sure every child and adult in Niagara Falls has a warm winter coat when the weather turns south.
Every year, the father and son team of Joe and Russell Petrozzi watch as thousands of new and gently used coats flood the storage areas at Capitol Cleaners on Main Street, helping them prepare for any number of individuals looking for assistance.
But Saturday's first distribution was dampened by a day of rain, keeping many families who need the warmth away and the coat racks full of unclaimed merchandise.
"It's a little slower than it usually is because of the weather," Russell Petrozzi, owner of Capitol Cleaners, said. "The rain kept people away this morning."
"Normally, we're bombed in the morning, but because of the rain, we had a steady, slower flow of people," his father, Joe Petrozzi, said.
How low was this year's turnout? Together with volunteers from the St. Vincent DePaul Society, they handed out 188 coats to 77 adults and 119 children. Though the numbers seem impressive, volunteers said they usually see 300 or more coats distributed on a clear day.
But those who need the help the most aren't limited to just this one day. A second distribution day has been set up for those who weren't able — or chose not — to get out of the house.
They'll also be distributing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday Nov. 24 at Capitol Cleaners' 1227 Main St. location.
In addition, Russell Petrozzi said several schools in the area will also receive coats, which they'll be able to distribute to children as they see fit. Any unclaimed larger, adult coats will be given to AMVETS or taken by the St. Vincent DePaul Society.
So even if people don't visit for distributions, there are still ways to get warmth this winter, he said.
For those who volunteer each year, the experience never changes. They see the same people come through the doors, get to know the families. In Niagara Falls, there's a lot of problems with poverty and so many families are in need of something as essential as a winter coat.
It's helping those individuals which keeps Joe Studi, a Niagara Falls resident who volunteers with the St. Vincent DePaul Society, coming back to the coat distributions for more than 10 years.
"I love to see the people year after year," he said. "You get to know them. and there's so much need for people in Niagara Falls."
Those return participants sometimes do a little more than grab coats from the racks, too, Joe Petrozzi said. Some of his repeat customers bring their previous coats from the last few years back with them because their children have outgrown them. They're re-donated back into the program where they can reach a new individual in need.
It's being able to help these children and their parents, seeing the smiles on their faces as they pull new coats off the racks and try them on and the way they look at him and the ten volunteers as they find the one they like, which pushes him to keep coming back to the program he started all those years ago, he said.
"Some of the kids come up to me and say 'look at my new coat,' " he said. "They're overjoyed. And we don't give them a coat, they pick it out themselves. That's what makes this so nice. It makes you feel good."COATS FOR KIDS Another coat distribution will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 24 at Capitol Cleaners, 1227 Main St.