Scott Ouellette fondly recalls the excitement of playing in snow as a youngster.
He said the idea that some children may never have that same opportunity because of a lack of the proper apparel is a shame. But the reality that others may be forced to trudge through the snow without warm clothes is heartbreaking.
"Some kids may never have that opportunity to play in the snow because they don't have the clothes to do it," Ouellette said. "Others come to school without jackets and boots. Some families may not be able to provide that because of their situations."
Ouellette, director of business development for Taylor Companies of Ohio in Mogadore, is helping lead Warm Hearts, Warm Kids charity, an initiative of the Portage County Insurance Association to collect winter coats, boots, hats, scarves and gloves for children in the Kent and Ravenna school districts.
The group is accepting donations through Friday so any used items can be cleaned and turned over to the schools next week. FRSTeam by DKS Dry Cleaning Restoration in Parma will donate the dry cleaning services.
Fellow charity organizer Erin Madonio Latina, of the Brimfield Insurance Group, said the PCIA will split all donations and give half to each school district in Kent and Ravenna.
Latina said she got the idea for the charity after identifying the need through her connections with local schools.
"We chose Kent and Ravenna because those are the biggest districts in Portage County," she said. "If this blossoms in the future, who knows what we could continue to do. It could definitely grow in years to come."
The goal is to collect 100 coats, 100 pairs of boots and 250 hats, scarves or pairs of gloves. Some donation boxes have been placed at offices throughout the county. One is located at the Water Street Tavern, 132 S. Water St., in downtown Kent.
Latina said the group is counting on collecting the bulk of donations during the PCIA's annual holiday event at Kent's 157 Lounge, 157 S. Water St., Friday. Attendees who bring an item will receive one free drink ticket for the night.
However, the public is encouraged to drop off their items at 157 Lounge anytime during the event, which runs from 4:30 to 9 p.m.
Anyone interested in donating items, attending Friday's event or learning more about the charity effort is directed to contact Ouellette at 330-628-9310 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
School administrators said they're touched by PCIA's efforts. Each district will turn over any items to building principals, who will work with fellow teachers and faculty to identify potential families who could use the cold-weather gear.
"There are plenty of kids and families in need of this, especially around the holiday season," said Ravenna Superintendent Dennis Honkala. "We're very excited people are willing to be so generous with their giving. We will put all of those items to good use."
"Every year, when the weather turns cold, personnel in the schools purposely watch out for what students are wearing when they come to school," said Assistant Superintendent Thomas Larkin of the Kent school district. "And every year, there is a need of boots, coats, hats and gloves. We are tremendously grateful for the generosity."
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Coats, boots, hats, scarves and gloves in all sizes for boys and girls ages 4-18 are needed, but kids from ages 6-12 are a heavy focus.
Gently used items will be accepted and dry cleaned before they're turned over to the school districts.
Medium-sized boots for boys and girls are among the items most used and most needed.
Anyone with questions or interested in coordinating a donation dropoff can contact Scott Ouellette at 330-628-9310.