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Jacket Racket warms hearts

Written by Allison Chorney
Friday, 06 November 2009

Program that gives coats to kid, gives to volunteers too. After more than 15 years with Jacket Racket — a Calgary program that provides gently-used winter jackets to students — program co-ordinator Elaine Russell still calls her involvement her “passion.”

“It’s a project that I absolutely love,” Russell said, adding that she gets a “huge amount of pleasure” helping families provide their children with outerwear for the winter.

In a warehouse filled with gently used coats, Elaine Russell and her team of volunteers sort the donated coats and prepare them for distribution to the schools.

Elaine Russell Photo: Allison Chorney/Calgary Journal

Russell says the need for coats is growing and has noticed an increase this year in the number of schools placing orders. “There are a lot of families that are struggling and especially this year with the economic downturn,” Russell said.

Though the program has seen an increased demand for jackets than in previous years, and things are looking “a little scary now,” according to Russell, she is confident Calgary will come through to help out. “Calgary is just a wonderful city; people are keen to give to a project like this. We’ve never had any problems filling the orders; we always get enough donations.”

The confidential nature of Jacket Racket means Russell — a retired public school teacher — will never get to meet the children she helps. Still, she said the program keeps her connected with schools and kids.

“For me it’s a natural progression from teaching to want to stay involved with children.”

The program has been connected to teaching from its conception and was developed in 1988 by teachers who noticed students coming to school without proper jackets. Today, Jacket Racket works with both the Calgary Board of Education and Catholic School Board to distribute the donated jackets. As well, many schools will organize student coat drives for the program.

Kim Alladin, a guidance counselor at Sir William Van Horne High School in Calgary’s northwest, relies on teachers to identify students who may need a coat. Teachers contact Alladin if they feel a student could benefit from the program. The student is then allowed to pick out a coat from the ones Jacket Racket has provided.

Calling it a “great opportunity for our kids,” Alladin expects Sir William Van Horne High School will receive about 30 coats from the program this year and says the confidential program means no one needs to feel embarrassed. Jacket Racket's 2009 project wraps up Nov. 10.
For more information on donation sites visit www.jacketracketcalgary.com.