A simple conversation 10 years ago led to new winter coats for almost 3,800 area elementary school youngsters in low-income schools.
On the anniversary Koats 4 Kids celebratory night Oct. 21, 500 guests carrying puffy, warm coats of every color journeyed to The Pinery for a party and what might have been the finale of the successful tradition.
"It has been an awesome ride," said co-founder Jenifer Furda, explaining that many of those who had started Koats 4 Kids had spread their wings to other projects and are stepping down.
"A great run," she said. Her 2016 committee members, however, weren't convinced it was over for them.
Furda said it began when she and friend Linda Weise of The Colorado Springs Conservatory were chatting with an elementary school principal who had many students on free or reduced lunches who had many needs. What project could they do for them? Toys, books, school supplies? He told them, "I need coats and gloves and hats," saying kids were walking to school cold, very cold. "They can't learn when they're freezing," he told them.
Koats 4 Kids was born. Friends had brought 175 coats to build a big stack for the school as they had a party evening while also raising money for scholarships for needy students to study at the Conservatory.
Ten years, thousands of coats and more than $80,000 for scholarships later and Koats 4 Kids wound down with more than 500 coats going to every single student at Abrams Elementary School in Fountain-Fort Carson School District. Principal Lois Skaggs told attendees she was stunned as she pulled into the parking lot at The Pinery and saw armloads of "beautiful coats" being carried in to donate. She cried, thinking about "our kids."
The following Monday morning, said district PIO Christy McGee, there would be smiles and squeals after Fort Carson soldiers had emptied a coat-filled Gray Line bus into the school and the kids came in to choose their favorite winter wear.
Besides coats, there were backpacks filled with supplies from El Paso County employees and arranged for by Travers Hyde and hundreds of classic books delivered from a donor by Tina Dewar.
Along with Furda and Weise, those working on the Koats 4 Kids project starting in those early years were, among other volunteers, Cathy Nelson, Tina Dewar, Susan Hurst, Michelle Wolfe, Eric Howard, Vicki Gramm, Carla Malmquist, Ed Doerffel and Sara Muirhead.
Honored as the first sponsor was the late Tom Rogers, owner of Manitou Cliff Dwellings. His daughter, Courtney Olson, 2016 event co-chair, said it was special because "my dad didn't have a coat when he grew up in a family of 10 and went to the school's lost and found to find an unclaimed coat to wear."
More photos: gazette.com/life/around-town