Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange Has Become a Giving Tradition

Annual Black Friday coat drive on the Providence State House lawn lifts spirits with outerwear donations

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“No matter who you are, we want to help keep you warm,” says Becka Carroll, the digital outreach manager for Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange, which was founded by mother-and-daughter team Pam and Lauren Testoni. This sums up the goal of their largest coat drive, which culminates with a distribution event the day after Thanksgiving on the State House lawn in Providence.

“Whoever needs a coat is welcome to show up and take what they need, no questions asked,” Carroll continues. “Some folks who come to the event are unhoused and need help staying warm through the winter; others are families who simply can't afford to buy coats for their kids or themselves.” Collecting at centers across the state, they aim to have enough for everyone who stops by.

For volunteers, coat drive season starts around Labor Day each year. “We put out a call for donations of coats, hats, scarves, mittens, gloves, sweatshirts, sweaters – any kind of outerwear and winter clothing that will help keep folks warm,” says Carroll. “We collect up until the week before Thanksgiving at various sites throughout the state – shoutout to our collection site leaders, without whom we couldn't make this happen!” The days leading up to Black Friday – or Buy Nothing Day – are spent transporting donated goods from all over the state via U-Hauls, and then the “sorting and organizing frenzy” begins. 

Last year’s event was the first one back after taking a pandemic pause, and in a quick pivot, nimble organizers moved thousands of coats – the most they’ve ever received – indoors to avoid the rain. This year, the exchange falls on November 25. It’s grown so much that organizers are seeking additional storage facilities and warehouses to keep all of the coats they receive early in the drive. 

“We also accept and deeply appreciate monetary donations to our GoFundMe to help us pay for the U-Haul we use to transport the donated items as well as the storage unit where we store and organize everything until it's time for distribution,” says Carroll.

Buy Nothing Day Coat Drive wouldn’t exist without help from the community. Donations of clean, gently used winter clothing for all sizes and genders are needed. “We like to specifically ask for kids and XXL+ sizing since those are the most difficult to come by,” Carroll explains. “Local knitters and crocheters are welcome to make hats, scarves, mittens, and gloves to donate, too!”

Those interested in volunteering or setting up collection sites in their towns can visit  RICoatExchange.org or email ricoatdrive@gmail.com. 

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