Above: From left, Matt and Mike St. Ours (Testoni cousins), Paul Testoni, Lauren Testoni, Becka Carroll, and Casie Rhodes (another cousin) help load up the truck every year.
By Maura Legare
Thoughts of Black Friday often conjure images of people lining up at the door of the local Big Box stores at midnight on Thanksgiving night, waiting to be allowed in so they can elbow and trample one another in search of a coveted toy or electronics item at bargain prices. Not necessarily an activity for the faint of heart.
But for the past 25-plus years, a Black Friday sale of a more heart-warming variety has been taking place on the lawn of the Rhode Island State house the day after Thanksgiving each year, and the connections to East Greenwich run deep.
The Buy Nothing Coat Exchange was born from an idea to give back to the community and to make sure that every single individual, from the smallest children through adulthood, has what they need to keep warm each winter. EG resident and retired school teacher Pam Testoni had volunteered at the event for 15 years when, in 2016 she and her family – husband Paul, and daughters Lauren and Sarah – took over the reins of the event when the original organizer, Greg Gerritt, decided to step down.
“What really hooked me was the need,” said Pam. “Seeing the amount of people that showed up and how much they actually need a coat. And that they would get up early in the morning the day after Thanksgiving to get in line to get one.” Currently, Lauren and Becka Carroll are leading the charge as co-chairs of the drive with heart, dedication and hours and hours of hard work.
Collections begin annually in September and end the week before Thanksgiving. Coats are gathered from the 15 donation sites around the state, from Barrington to Scituate, Warwick to Pawtucket, in addition to 3 sites in Attleboro. While most of this year’s donations have already been picked up for sorting and distribution for this week’s event, the Hot Club at 25 Bridge Street in Providence is still accepting donations through Wednesday. Additionally, anyone wishing to attend the Coat Exchange on Friday is welcome to come – either to lend a hand or to donate cold weather necessities – from 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Many hands are welcome, particularly toward the end of the event when it’s time to pack up! Thanks to dozens of volunteers and donations from hundreds of generous individuals and organizations, churches, schools and businesses, the Buy Nothing Coat Exchange is able to provide coats, hats, gloves and other cold weather gear to thousands of Rhode Islanders on this one special day each year.
“I think the goal of this event is to make sure that everybody that comes leaves with a coat,” Pam said. Any remaining donations after Friday are brought to either the Mathewson Street Church in Providence or Clothes to Kids,11 Commerce Way, Unit 3, Johnston, which clothes individuals up to age 21 so both adult and children’s coats will be put to good use!
Volunteers at the coat exchange range from adults – many of whom are family and friends of Testonis from East Greenwich – to high schoolers to community members who may have benefitted from the program themselves and have decided to come and help, to give back. It’s a powerful opportunity for volunteers and customers to come together, and this connection clearly goes beyond the warmth of a coat and hat; it’s the warmth of the spirit of the event that can have an even greater impact.
“A lot of people talk about what they’re thankful for,” said Lauren, “and we get to go there and see people be thankful that they get a coat. And it changes the whole scope of Thanksgiving for us .”
According to Pam, “when you see someone who was in need who stays to help others in need, isn’t that what you want for this world? It renews my faith in humanity.”
Seems like Buy Nothing Day is about more than just coats.
For more information on this event and any of their projects, please visit ricoatexchange.org.