Winter drive offers free outerwear to those in need

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When Karen Montgomery was homeless and living in a shelter, she recalls that strangers helped her get back on her feet.

Today, Ms. Montgomery 57, volunteers at Rainbow Kitchen Community Services, a program dedicated to those who need a hand.

"I like to help because people have helped me," the Homestead woman said.

Ms. Montgomery sorts and hangs donated new and gently used winter outerwear, such as coats, hats, scarves and gloves, for the nonprofit's free annual winter coat distribution.

Shirts, pants, formal gowns, jackets, shoes and more will also be available at no cost.

Distribution times and dates are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 18 and 19, and again Oct. 25 and 26 in the former police station across from the Rainbow Kitchen on East Ninth Avenue. Donations can be dropped off there or at the Rainbow Kitchen from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Donated children's Halloween costumes are also sought. To allow for sorting, those who donate are asked to drop off items by Friday, although they will be accepted after that date.

"People who come here with donations are very enthusiastic," Kitchen executive director Donna Little said. "They are so happy they can do something to make a difference."

The Rainbow Kitchen was founded in 1984 in response to the impact of the closing of the steel mills, which displaced thousands of workers in the Steel Valley.

Last year, Rainbow Kitchen distributed 300,000 pounds of supplemental groceries and essential nonfood items to low-income families and individuals through its food pantry program.

Its Kids Cafe provided nearly 16,000 hot daily dinners to children, while 17,000 meals were served to its breakfast program participants.

The Rainbow Kitchen farm stand provided affordable, locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables to more than 100 households weekly.

The winter clothing distribution, held for the past 15 years, is part of the agency's case management and supportive services, which also include holiday meal baskets, volunteer income tax assistance and other services.

Low-income youth are also aided through the agency's special programming and mentoring opportunities.

Kitchen outreach coordinator Marlene Murphy said about a dozen year-round volunteers take pride in the clothing drive and arrange the distribution site to group similar items. There is the "baby room" and a "Macy's room" which features women's evening wear and accessories.

"Bring the body and the body can get dressed," Ms. Murphy said.

Among the volunteers who will escort, or act as personal shopper for, customers is Cynthia Williams, 50, of Munhall.

"I just like to help the people in the community," she said.

Last year, more than 1,500 coats were distributed during the cold weather.

"It makes such a difference to the people receiving them," Ms. Little said.

Details: marlene.murphy@rainbowkitchen.org, or call 412-464-1892. Monetary donations can be sent to Rainbow Kitchen, 135 E. Ninth Ave., Homestead, Pa. 15120. For information on volunteering, visit www.rainbowkitchen.org.

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. First Published October 10, 2013 12:59 AM


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