Local Coat Drive Brings Warmth To Organizer And Those In Need

By Cheryl Conway

A Verona teenager is collecting coats again this year to provide some warmth to those in need as the fall and winter chill creep on through.

Verona High School junior, Cianna Winkler, is finishing up her fifth Annual Coat Drive but will continue to collect gently used coats throughout the season. The 2016 coat drive began Oct. 29 and officially ended Dec. 3, but donations are still being accepted.

Drop off any size, gently used, winter coats to the First Presbyterian Church in Verona, where Winkler is a member. She asks that the coats be clean and contain no holes. The coats are then given to the Human Needs Food Pantry in Montclair.

“As long as people are still donating, we will keep the bins there,” says Winkler’s mom, Beverly Winkler.

The 17-year old has been hosting her coat drive since 2011, collecting between 4,000 and 5,000 coats since. She says she averages a collection of 1,000 coats per year.

The coat drive coincides with Winkler’s platform for her upcoming competition for Miss America. Her platform is “to help the homeless or anyone who needs help.”

Her desire to help others stems from her time as a Girl Scout.

“When I was a Daisy I went to the food pantry in Montclair,” says Winkler. The person who worked there made such an impression on her that she knew that helping people, “not just homeless but people who need a helping hand,” was right up her ally.

Other drop off points for the coats was located at the Community Center in Verona and Verona Jazzercise.

While other drives could have been selected, Winkler specifically put her efforts in collecting coats.

“I’ve done food drives,” says Winkler, but “coats are very impressive. I feel people take it for granted. They don’t realize how it can help someone,” especially during a harsh winter.

Winkler has collected other items for the homeless over the years such as toiletries for blessing bags for the Citadel in Montclair, a salvation army/shelter.

“There’s a lot of homeless that don’t declare themselves to social services,” explains Beverly. “What amazed Cianna [is that] within a mile and a half to two miles to our home, there are so many people in need. Coats are expensive; around here people don’t even wear coats.” But some people need that coat, those who are outside. “Our folks may not go into Newark; this was more localized.”

Winkler adds, “it’s more of our community helping each other out.”

Winkler accepts hats, gloves and scarves as well to donate.

She organized the coat drive through her church, which agreed to be one of the drop off centers.

“The number of coats we get are amazing,” says Winkler. “What people drop off, we even get coats with price tags on them. It really does bring a warmth to my heart. Coats are such a simple thing. Donating and sometimes seeing those who get it, it’s so nice. It’s a feeling I would never want it to go away.”

Through the church, the Winklers plan to also provide blessing bags for the homeless and they also provide Sunday Suppers, in which money is raised to feed people locally. On Sundays, home cooked meals are delivered to those identified.

While giving has always been in her nature, Winkler uses her service hours toward one of her points as a Miss America contestant.

“Service is one of the four points of the Miss America crown,” she says. “The other three are scholarship, style and success.  These are critical factors in the judging of Miss America and Miss Americas Outstanding Teen. My next big initiative is to plan and run a fundraiser for the leukemia and Lymphoma Society this winter.”

Winkler was selected a few weeks ago by LLS to be a student leader and plans to host a drive to increase awareness of blood cancers which are a leading cause of death of teens, she adds. Details for the fundraiser have not yet been finalized.

For the past three years, Winkler has been competing in Miss America pageants, and a total of five years in pageants. Her most recent was the Miss America Gateway held in Hackettstown, in which she won outstanding teen. On Jan. 21, 2017, she will compete against 20 other teen ages 13 to 17, for Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen at the Clayton Performing Arts Center in Clayton.

Miss America is a scholarship foundation to offset costs for college, explains Beverly. Winkler will be judged in different areas including interview, talent, gown, onstage questions and fitness.

“Thinking Outside The Box,” is Winkler’s platform featuring the Cardboard City event she holds.

Anyone wishing to donate a coat can drop off at the First Presbyterian Church in Verona or the Community Center in Verona. Email bevwink@aol.com with questions.

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