WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
As a teacher in the Kalamazoo public school system for 33 years, Leslie Lami-Reed witnessed kids coming to school during the winter months without the proper attire to ward off the Michigan winter cold. So, in 1986, she decided to ask ten friends to donate $100 around Christmastime to purchase coats and boots for children who didn’t have any.
The fundraising was a success! She continued to raise money each year, and growing interest multiplied the efforts and reach to schools in other areas with similar needs. Today, Warm Kids Project (WKP) covers every elementary school in all eight districts of Kalamazoo.
In 1988, two years after WKP was conceived, Lami-Reed applied for and received the official tax-exempt status of a 501(c)3.
The program works as follows:
WKP purchases a certain amount of clothing (all brand new) at a wholesale price (between $10-20 for boots and coats), based on the needs submitted by recipient schools. These schools are vetted based on their enrollment and their free and reduced lunch count, as these are indicators of particular concern and represent higher poverty rates. Parents can contact the schools to request assistance, too.
According to research conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, these figures represent the percentage of children eligible for free and reduced lunches based on family income in Kalamazoo:
- 2008 – 41.5%
- 2009 – 45.4%
- 2010 – 46.9%
- 2011 – 47.7%
- 2012 – 48.6%
- 2013 – 48%
- 2014 – 48.1%
- 2015 – 45%
Once they determine how many pairs of boots and coats are going to each school, volunteers of WKP spend a day boxing all the clothing in preparation for its distribution.
In addition to the elementary schools WKP serves, they’ve adopted the following programs as recipients:
- Kalamazoo County Head Start
- Pre-Primary Education Program
- Comstock Community Learning Center
- Kalamazoo County Human Services
- Family Division of the 9th Circuit Court
- Woods Edge Learning Center
- Learning Village Preschool
Since inception, WKP has worked to develop special relationships with partnering retail organizations that allow it to obtain products for clearance prices, making the most of the donor’s monetary contributions.
The organization faces the ongoing challenge of maintaining the focus and scope of its work. Lami-Reed, and her husband, who serves as treasurer of the board, have received several propositions over the years to make the program bigger, replicating it in other communities. Both of them have expressed their desire to keep the mission of the nonprofit the same, helping the agencies in need within the Kalamazoo area.
In the words of the Lami-Reeds, “The strongest facet of the program is the reliability that they’re there every year. People kind of expect it, and they would like to continue in that same way. The need has not gone down.” To continue these efforts and the tremendous impact the organization has made, WKP is looking for younger generations to carry out the work it’s started. If you are interested in getting involved in this meaningful program, contact the Reeds on their website.
Warm Kids Project P.O. Box 803, Portage Michigan 49081 l (269) 329-0882 l WarmKids.org