Local officials continue winter clothing drive tradition despite pandemic

By Vivian La, Staff Writer

As the spectre of COVID-19 looms into the winter, community officials and organizations are offering free winter clothing across the C-U area as well as additional services and support.

Mike Ingram, Champaign County recorder of deeds, said he’s noticed “an uptick” in need for winter gear this season because of the pandemic but that “there’s a pretty staggering need every year.”

“Local service points that are doing the real nitty gritty, down in the local level work, those are the important things to support,” Ingram said.

The Brookens Administrative Center has several winter clothing items available, as well as face masks, for people to walk in and grab.

Places that normally would be open for walk-ins have been affected by the pandemic, Ingram said. People are also less willing to go to these places in a pandemic.

Ingram’s office has partnered with Cunningham Township, which has its own coat rack of winter gear too at its West Green St. location as well as coat giveaway events throughout the season.

“Our first coat giveaway was in November, we had several hundred coats, maybe about 200 to 300 coats, they were all gone in about 45 minutes. An event that was supposed to last 2 hours,” Cunningham Township supervisor Danielle Chynoweth said.

She said that in their three years of doing winter clothes giveaways, she’s never seen more coats donated and more coats given away.

Brookens Administrative Center is open, Ingram added, and winter coats are available. “People like to go to places where they feel like there aren’t eyeballs on them,” he said. “We’re in a pretty secluded hallway.”

Winter clothing can be easier because things like sizing doesn’t matter, Ingram said. He said for more specific needs, people can reach out to him directly, no questions asked, and he will find someone or an organization to help out.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on families that were already struggling before, Chynoweth said. “Everything has changed.”

Cunningham Township provides rental assistance, general assistance, and also runs food advocacy programs. In some ways, the pandemic helped by cutting parts of their work process and effectively helping more people, Chynoweth said.

“We’re helping a lot more people,” she said. “Last year, we helped about 1,000 Urbana residents and this past year, it’s going to be closer to 4,000 to 5,000.”

Clothing donations to local service points instead of the local Goodwill help more, Ingram said. “They tend to utilize the things you’re donating in a much more helpful way that’s beneficial to the local community.”

Brookens Administrative Center, Cunningham Township and the Channing Murray Foundation located on campus are all accepting donations of clean winter clothing. New socks, clean hats and scarves are also accepted at Cunningham or the Channing Murray Foundation.

In addition to donations, Chynoweth said volunteers are always welcome and encouraged, especially at the Channing Murray Foundation with their food delivery program.

“Speaking to the campus community, we feel you,” she said. “I think by getting engaged and involved in volunteer efforts, that can really help people feel grounded and connected and support their own mental health.”

For Chynoweth, the pandemic has highlighted the resilience of the C-U community.

“What this disaster could have looked like locally is so different than what it has been,” she said. “The community has come together in a way that in my 25 years of living in Champaign-Urbana, I have never seen.”

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