It all started three years ago with a phone call from Sgt. Kevin Bowers and Corp. Josh Henry with the City of Winston-Salem Police Department Bike Patrol. They were looking to spread the word to the community about the need for gently used blankets that officers could give to people they encountered outside during the cold months. For several years before, the King Christian Center had been providing blankets to the police, but the supply was running out.
The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce put out the call to its members, and blankets began showing up at the chamber office and at chamber events. Wake Forest Athletics Associate Director Barbara Walker heard the call, and Wake students and staff collected blankets, which begin appearing on the front porch at my home. Other organizations also stepped in and brought blankets, including the Twin City Kiwanis Club, City With Dwellings and Aladdin Travel.
More were needed, so we asked Reynolda Rotarians to scour their attics and closets and bring them in. Lynn Ebert, secretary of Reynolda Rotary and I were regular blanket transporters — taking the donated ones to the police station. When everyone’s closets were emptied, John Andrews, a Reynolda Rotarian, and his wife started going to yard sales and estate sales, buying blankets. Reynolda Rotary members became regulars at going-out-of- business sales at stores that had blankets.
Still more were needed. Then Goodwill CEO Art Gibel, also a Reynolda Rotarian, had an idea. Some of the blankets donated to Goodwill were too soiled or torn to be able to be sold in Goodwill’s stores, which generate funds for workforce development and training, but they were usable enough to provide warmth. Art started setting aside blankets that were in usable condition but needed some TLC, mainly washing. The challenge was figuring out how to wash the blankets so they would be ready to hand out this winter. Reynolda Rotarians are wonderful volunteers, but laundering up to 1,500 blankets in their home washing machines was too big a task.
In stepped Kevin Robert, area general manager of Twin City Quarter, the Marriott and Embassy Suites hotels downtown. Kevin understood the need and volunteered to wash and dry the blankets. This only was possible because Twin City Quarter recently had invested thousands of dollars to purchase new washing and drying machines. Twin City Quarter managers volunteered their time to fold them.
Now a process was in place. Goodwill would set aside the usable blankets and take them in large bins to the Marriott Hotel downtown. Twin City Quarter would wash and dry them. Goodwill would take them to one of its locations for storage. And the Winston-Salem police, led by Corp. Josh Henry, would ensure that the blankets got to the officers who provide them to our homeless population and to other families in the cold and in need.
No one was looking for publicity or even thanks. Everyone was just doing what Winston-Salem does: Identifying a need and figuring out a way to work together to address it.
It’s going to be cold again very soon, and the need still is there. The Winston-Salem Police Department still will be collecting blankets at its Downtown Bike Patrol location and its headquarters on Cherry and 7th Sts. Additional collection locations are at both City Hall buildings. This year, however, there’s already a supply to start with, thanks to a few Rotarians, a nonprofit organization working to train people for jobs, and one of our community’s premier hotels.