Zonta works with schools to keep kids warm

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Seeing firsthand how many kids don’t have proper winter apparel, Jefferson Elementary School nurse Jen Olmstead is trying to help solve the problem by finding coats, boots and whatever else students may need to stay warm.

“It’s not because parents don’t want to (provide winter clothes), it’s because they simply don’t have the resources,” Olmstead said. “I’m just trying to replace the resources we’ve lost.”

Olmstead said that she has seen this problem before, where parents on tight budgets have to choose between what they can afford. She also believes that the closure of the local K-mart last year has made the problem worse as it eliminated a relatively inexpensive source for winter apparel.

She also noted that she understands The Attic can be a source for cheap coats, but the correct sizes might not be available when the temperatures drop.

Through her research to find warm clothes for local students, Olmstead was happy to find the local chapter of Zonta International.

Olmstead has been able to help dress many local students for the weather with coats provided by Zonta as part of the organization’s long-standing goal to make sure kids who need coats have them. Zonta has provided coats to kids ranging from infants to 18 years old since 2010.

According to Zonta member Connie Undem, the group has provided about 300 coats to those in need in Glendive and the surrounding areas.

To help the program reach as many kids as possible, Undem sends letters out to people who work with children, including school nurses, prior to the winter months to let them know about the program. The letter encourages them to contact Zonta members to fill the needs of local children in the winters months. Undem said without the help of the schools, the program would not work as well as it does.

“You definitely need the schools, be it the nurse or the counselor or sometimes it’s the secretary. You have to have that interaction with the schools in order for it to continue or to happen for sure,” Undem said.

The only information provided to Zonta is the size and gender of the child in question, they then find a coat and call whoever gave them the information when the coat is ready to be picked up.

Olmstead said that after she receives the coat, she goes about getting it to the child who needs it very subtly. She said the coats will sometimes be picked up by the parents or placed in the child’s locker while everyone is in class. Sometimes, if the coat is meant for a younger sibling, the coat will be given to that child’s older sibling to take home to them. She added that the older siblings often take pride in taking their sibling’s new coat to them.

Undem noted that while the program has provided “gently used” coats in the past, they prefer to give the kids brand new coats, saying that what’s considered gently used can vary from person to person and the kids seem to enjoy having their own new coats more.

“It’s better, they’re more excited to get a new coat than something somebody else wore,” Undem said.

The new coats are often ordered through stores and are paid for with funds raised during Zonta’s annual craft shows.

Undem encourages anyone that knows of a child in need to get in contact with her as soon as possible. She can be reached at cmu@midriver.com.

“You have to have that interaction with the schools in order for it to continue or to happen for sure,”
Connie Undem, Zonta member