Refugees from warm-weather climates often don't have the proper clothes for central Illinois winters.
Students at Next Generation Middle School are again collecting coats and other cold-weather gear to make sure refugee families stay warm this season.
The school is sponsoring its second annual coat drive Nov. 14-18 to benefit the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center in Urbana.
It will accept gently used winter coats, as well as new mittens, scarves & hats, in all sizes to benefit adults and children involved with the refugee center.
Next Generation Middle School has an ongoing relationship with the refugee center, which helps with the resettlement of refugees and immigrants in East Central Illinois. It's been operating in Champaign-Urbana since 1982, but many people don't understand the breadth of its work, said Stasia Sienna, Next Generation outreach coordinator, who helped initiate the partnership.
The school last year collected more than 200 coats, which were distributed to families through the refugee center, Sienna said. Next Generation students also hold a spring clothing drive for the center in April and serve as volunteers at its international dinner/auction fundraiser later that month.
Students last year also collected money for the center, and seventh-grader Giulia Barbieri raised more than $200 by giving a talk at her church about the plight of refugees. Her mom, UI Associate Professor Ann Abbott, is a board member for the refugee center.
Giulia was among the students who volunteered at the fundraiser and said she met a lot of interesting people. She said the coat project gives students a chance to reach out to the community.
"It was a good experience," Giulia said Monday. "It's important to give to those people who don't have the luxury of going out to buy a coat."
The partnership with the refugee center started as a service-learning project for the middle school, she said. Students collected baby items for a pregnant woman from the Congo who had been relocated here as a war refugee and brought in enough to supply the baby girl with two years' worth of clothes, she said. The baby arrived safely and is "doing very well," she said.
"It's been a very, very tough situation for the mother, but it's really gone as well as it could have for her," she said. "Many of the kids who were instrumental in that project got to meet her" and hear her story.
The school then decided to broaden its efforts to help other refugee families, with the fall/winter coat drive and a spring drive to collect clothing, books, diapers and educational toys. This year the spring drive will focus only on clothes, she said.
Sienna said the coats are in great demand; those collected last year were distributed in just over a week.
Kristin Sandone, communications coordinator for Next Generation, wanted to get the word out now while people are clearing out coats that their children have outgrown.
"We'll be happy to take those for a good cause," she said.
Collection boxes will be located in the lobby of each of all three Next Generation buildings, but the best dropoff point will be the primary school building at 2521 Galen Drive, C. Dropoffs can be made while the school is open, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.