From left to right: Jon Wynn (Gear Up For Outdoors), Tom Pazianos (The Keg), Bob Stewart (The Keg)

COVID-19 Forces Changes but Organizers Remain Confident

By Matt Prokopchuk

While the ongoing pandemic has meant a number of changes to a long-running annual effort to gather and distribute winter jackets to those in need, organizers of the Gear Up For Outdoors Winter Coat Drive say they expect the number of donations to continue to be strong.

The outdoors supply business has been behind the 14-year effort and company president and co-owner Jon Wynn says COVID-19 has meant taking a different approach this year. Wynn also coordinates much of the coat drive. Donations of winter jackets now have to be washed ahead of being dropped off and each must be sealed in individual clear plastic bags with the sizing noted on the container.  All donated items go to Shelter House, Grace Place, and Precious Bundles.

“Our paramount concern was safety, not only for the actual garments and who they are going to but our staff,” Wynn says, adding that he worked with the three not-for-profits in developing the new method. “We tried to alleviate any of the risk.”

Donations are being accepted at Gear Up during their business hours and they’re then kept in quarantine at the shop for 48 to 72 hours, Wynn says. Shelter House’s SOS van then comes by to pick them up, with the coats being distributed through Grace Place. Precious Bundles also does their own pick up.

From left to right: Melody Macsemchuk (Grace Place), Emily Shandruk (Precious Bundles), Michelle Jordan (Shelter House)

Despite the changes to how this year’s drive will work, Wynn says he anticipates people will continue to support the initiative. “I think what’s going to happen is it’s going to be even bigger than it has been before,” he says. “Thunder Bay has such a giant heart when it comes to giving and helping our community and especially through these times–there’s a lot more people [who] need the jackets and things like that than in the past.”

“There’s a lot of people that are just falling through the cracks and not [through] any fault of their own, just because of the situation that we’re in and Thunder Bay steps up big time when it comes to our community there and that’s why it’s such a pleasure dealing with everybody on this.” Wynn says that a couple of long-time customers have even taken to buying necessary clothing from thrift stores over the course of the year in order to donate the items when the coat drive comes around.

Although all donations are welcome, on its website, the company says that larger children’s and youth coats as well as larger jackets for adults are the most needed items. For more information, you can visit the dedicated online blog.