RI Buy Nothing Day Coat returns
PROVIDENCE – The Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange is back in Providence this year to distribute hundreds of winter clothes items collected across the state.
Last year’s coat exchange was canceled due to the pandemic, but has returned this year taking place Nov. 26 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the lawn of the Rhode Island State House.
Becka Carroll, director of digital outreach for RI Coat Exchange, said all community members and workers are required to be masked during the event and social distancing is recommended when possible.
RI Coat Exchange received a donation of disposable masks and mini hand sanitizers that will be available for anyone who may need them, according to Carroll.
The organization is working to have a member of the Department of Health present to answer any COVID-19 related questions for community members, according to Carroll.
In addition to winter clothing, Carroll said snacks and coffee will be available for community members.
Those interested in donating can visit ricoatexchange.org for more details on the various donation sites, including Cumberland, Pawtucket, and Cranston.
In previous years, Pawtucket and Newport also hosted distribution sites on
Buy Nothing Day, but those were unable to take place this year, according to Carroll.
A similar distribution will be taking place in Wakefield at St. Francis of Assisi Church located on 128 High Street, according to Carroll.
Any coats remaining at the end of Providence’s event will be donated directly to RI Coat Exchange’s community partners, including the Da Vinci Center and the Sojourner House – both located in Providence – and House of Hope – located in Warwick, according to Carroll.
“If people aren’t able to come get what they need on the day of, we would definitely encourage them to reach out to any of those organizations,” Carroll said.
She said the Providence event was founded approximately 25 years ago by environmental activist Greg Gerritt.
“He really decided to turn his love of conservation and being eco-friendly into a charitable cause,” Carroll said.
Combatting the consumerism of Black Friday, the coat exchange falls in line with the international day of protest, “Buy Nothing Day,” she said.
“Rather than fill the landfill, we can fill up somebody’s closet or keep them warm for the winter – even if they don’t have a closet,” she added.
After approximately 20 years, Gerritt stepped back from the event and longtime volunteer motherdaughter duo Pam and Lauren Testoni took over as co-directors, according to Carroll.
A longtime friend of Lauren’s, Carroll said she got involved a couple years ago when she first started learning how to knit.
Knowing the organization was always looking for more scarves and hats in addition to coats, “I turned myself into a little sweatshop,” she joked.
Carroll said she took over as director of digital outreach when she realized there was more need for event marketing and promotion, adding she had already had a background in marketing because it’s what she does for a living.
The event is entirely volunteer based, so it’s “very grassroots,” Carroll said. “We just became a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit earlier this calendar year.”
Because it is volunteer based, Carroll said it’s difficult to keep record of all the clothing items that come and go, but said in 2019, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 coats were distributed at the Providence event.
She said though last year’s coat drive was canceled, the organization was able to put on a sock drive at the start of this year.
In homeless and domestic violence shelters one of the most highly requested items is socks, Carroll said. Therefore, the organization collected sock donations.
“We did some just drive arounds, where if we saw somebody on the street who might have been asking for money or asking for help, we would just ask them if they needed a pair of socks and usually they would say, ‘Sure,’” she said. “So, we would hand them some socks and then move on.
“Then we did have a bunch of leftovers that we gave to different community organizations as well to make sure that they got to those who needed them,” she added.
Carroll said this year’s coat drive is going to be “more important than ever” due to the effects COVID19 has had on people, especially the impoverished and homeless populations.
“So making sure that people who can’t afford to get a coat of their own or don’t have the resources to do that can still get one and still be warm this winter is going to be huge,” she added.
She emphasized how many families come to this event every year with children, who may only have a coat on their Christmas list, adding how the event provides these children with a chance to also get something on Black Friday, with other families usually spending the day to do their Christmas shopping.
“We did have one of our volunteers who went around collecting coats,” Carroll said. “She ended up with a bunch of kids coats and she had this really sweet idea to put little toys and action figures in the pocket of all the kids coats so that a kid gets brand new coat, they get to try it on, and then put their hands in the pockets and there’s a little bonus surprise in them for there, as well.
“We try to make it as fun and nice as possible,” she added.
She said the goal of the event is to no longer have to have it, and everyone who needs a coat has one, adding how some people line up outside of Best Buy on Black Friday every year, while others find themselves lined up for the coat drive.
However, with this goal not yet being a reality, “our goal every year is just to have enough,” Carroll said.
“There’s a tremendous amount of need within the community and we always want to make sure that if someone comes and they need X, Y, and Z that we have it for them,” she said.