Sharing the Warmth

Koats for Kids gearing up to help thousands of Winnipeg families stay warm this winter

Ashley Saulog sorts a collection of dozens of donated handmade toques to be shared with Winnipeg families this winter.

Ashley Saulog remembers her mom describing the first time she experienced winter after moving to Winnipeg from the Philippines when she was 17 years old.

“When she arrived here on November 29, it was so cold, she had no idea what she was doing,” Saulog recalled, adding the average temperature in the Philippines is +25 °C year-round.

“(My mom) always tells me that winter to her was a movie concept … she had no concept of what winter really meant—the wind and frost and ice.

“Now that I’m here at Koats for Kids, I just think about: what would my mom have needed at that time?’”

As Community Engagement Manager for United Way Winnipeg, Saulog helps Winnipeg families find warm winter coats, mitts, toques, scarves, and ski pants through the annual Koats for Kids program. Every year, Koats for Kids collects and distributes as many as 6,000 jackets and more than 20,000 accessories.

Saulog’s mother’s story is very familiar to Queehyung Nam, who works with newcomers to Winnipeg at Mosaic Newcomer Family Resource Network.

The settlement organization helps support language and parenting skills for about 500 people every month—more than 60% of who are refugees, and many of them coming from tropical countries. Mosaic orders more winter clothing from Koats for Kids than any other organization in the city.

“Imagine someone coming from weather that’s +30 °C,” said Nam, explaining newcomers learn in class how to dress in layers and the importance of appropriate outerwear for our winters. “It’s not only what you wear on your body but also on your hands and feet. It’s dangerous if you’re not wearing a toque and it’s -25 °C.”

“It will give your clothes second life that will benefit someone else’s life.”

Warm winter wear not only protects kids from the elements on the coldest of days but improves children’s well-being, too—both emotionally and developmentally.

“If it’s -30 °C outside, for a child who doesn’t have proper winter gear and doesn’t have a bus to pick them up or parent to drive them, you will not be able to go to school,” Saulog said, adding playing in the snow with friends is a quintessential Winnipeg thing to do—but a challenge in clothes that don’t keep you warm.

“Winter does hinder life here if you’re not prepared.”

Nam said Koats for Kids is tremendous for the children it helps. It also takes pressure off parents who are being squeezed by sharply rising costs for groceries, gas, and other household essentials. Crossing winterwear off the list of expenses is a welcome relief for families already on a tight budget.

Koats for Kids started collecting donations this week for the 2022 season. Winnipeggers can drop off new or gently used winter clothing and accessories at select Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service stations, Access Storage locations, Toys R Us stores, and AMJ Campbell. For a complete list of drop-off locations, please visit koatsforkids.ca.

Saulog said there are volunteer opportunities available as well—and she encourages workplaces to organize clothing drives as a meaningful way to share the warmth of the season with Winnipeg families.

“It’s cold here, and you know what it feels like, and you know the impact it will have once a child gets that warm jacket for the first time,” she said.

“It will give your clothes second life that will benefit someone else’s life.”