What began as a simple effort three years ago to collect coats for Lake County veterans in need and their families continues to grow every year, with thousands of coats collected.
Collection boxes have been located at more than 30 locations throughout the county, including village halls, police departments and business in Green Oaks, Libertyville, Mundelein and Vernon Hills.
“The boxes have been overflowing this year,” said Carol Levin, marketing director for the Green Oaks, Libertyville, Mundelein, Vernon Hills Chamber of Commerce.
A list of collection locations can be found at www.glmvchamber.org/events/details/glmv-2022-coat-drive-for-vets-302158.
The Chamber first stepped in to help during the pandemic. Before that, local law enforcement agencies had worked for years with area high schools to put coat collection boxes at schools. The limitations of the pandemic made that difficult, Levin said.
“The Chamber said of course we’ll jump in and assist,” Levin said. “By working together, we’ll provide veterans in need the gift of warmth, we’ll support our business community during challenging times and we hope to bring a brighter future to our veterans and community.”
Numerous volunteers, donors and businesses have come forward annually, she said, and the Chamber works with Midwest Veterans Closet – a nonprofit charity that provides free clothing and other items to former soldiers – to distribute the coats.
Coats in all sizes and shapes have been collected to not only help veterans but also their families, she said.
“It was very successful this year, and we hope to continue it many years in the future,” Levin said. “It’s been wonderful. It’s definitely a community effort.”
The GLMV Chamber of Commerce and Midwest Veterans Closet worked with villages, municipalities and businesses, including the Great Lakes Credit Union, ServPro Libertyville, Wintrust, Elements Massage and Shurway Movers to put on the drive. Shurway Movers provided free boxes.
Although the coat drive officially ends this week, donations still can be dropped off at Midwest Veterans Closet, 2323 Green Bay Road, North Chicago. For information on the organization, visit www.midwestveteranscloset.org.
Coats are only part of what Midwest Veterans Closet provides, said Terry Devanie of Libertyville, a U.S. Navy Reserves veteran who has volunteered for the organization the past six years. He travels around the county picking up the coats from boxes and serves as food resource manager.
“We have everything from food to furniture to clothing and bedding,” he said. “Everything we get is free to active-duty service members or veterans.”
The organization often helps service members and their families newly stationed at Great Lakes, the only Naval Recruit Training Center in the country, Devanie said. If a family comes from a warmer location, he said, they often don’t have winter clothing or coats.
Midwest Veterans Closet is looking to expand into a bigger location to keep up with growing demand, he said.
“We do hear a lot from veterans who have been homeless or are going to potentially be homeless,” Devanie said. “We have a lot that tell us if they couldn’t come there for clothing or food, they probably couldn’t afford their rent.”
Devanie, who served from 1971-77, started volunteering after he retired. He took on more hours when he saw the need for more help.
“I think the biggest reason [to donate] is we owe our veterans,” he said. “They’ve done a lot for us. If we can help them out, it’s great. Only 1% of the country serves in the military. A lot of them put their lives on the line for us.”
Unlike other places, he said, everything offered through Midwest Veterans Closet is free to active military and veterans.
“Nobody pays a penny,” Devanie said.
As for the coat drive, he said, it has an immense impact.
He’s called upon by the Chamber to pick up boxes when they’re full and he’s been busy. One location – the Centre Club in Libertyville – brought in nine bags full of coats, he said.
“We are incredibly grateful,” said Mary Carmody, executive director of Midwest Veterans Closet, in a news release provided by the GLMV Chamber of Commerce. “Your leadership and generosity of our communities provided thousands of beautiful weather-appropriate coats to service members, veterans and their families over the past three years.”