Grassroots coat drive brings warmth to those on streets (video)

Coat Drive
Button & Zipper has been collecting and proiding coats since 2013. (Ryan Connelly Holmes/Medill)

By Ryan Connelly Holmes

A few feet from the traffic passing under the Fullerton I-90/94 overpass sits a mattress. Beneath the covers of the mattress on the ledge, a man and a woman lay resting, their belongings close by. On the other side of four lanes of traffic, a few people congregate, their possessions filling shopping carts.

It’s about noon on Sunday Oct. 18. This area is popular for individuals on the streets to seek shelter, even during the heaviest traffic times of the day.

By 8 p.m. on Oct. 19 the city has totally cleared out the underpass. It looks like no one has been there.

Such is the transient world of life on the streets.

This is the world and these are the people that Ira Coleman vowed to help when he started Button & Zipper in 2013.

“My mom has instilled, you know, giving back to the community, helping out people of need whenever possible,” Coleman said.

Button & Zipper is a coat drive that collects donated coats from 19 local partner businesses and brings those coats to people on the streets and at-risk youth to organizations that help those on the streets. The grassroots drive, operated solely by Coleman, started collecting donations Oct. 1 and ends Feb. 29, 2016.

Button & Zipper has one employee, Ira Coleman, who hopes to collect more than 1,500 coats in 2015-2016 (Ryan Connelly Holmes/Medill)

Service trips to Nicaragua with his company, TransNational Payments, helped spark the idea for a tangible way of assistance in a city where more than 30 people have died due to cold weather since 2013, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Serving down there really opened me up to understanding how can I give back to the Chicagoland market—Chicagoland community, so I decided to start a coat drive.”

The first year Coleman ran the coat drive, he collected 845 coats. Last year he received about 1,400 donated coats. In 2015-2016, he is confident he’ll pass the 1,500 coat mark and hopes to get about 2,000.

Coleman said spends 20 to 30 hours per week running Button & Zipper in addition to his full-time job at TransNational Payments.

He collects coats from cardboard bins placed in storefronts that serve as drop-off sites. Some of the businesses are owned by friends like Sarah Gutierrez, who runs Nichole.Beck Hair Boutique in Lake View.

“I think this cause—Button & Zipper—is so amazing, because who doesn’t have an extra jacket or something in their closet that they’re not using that’s really going to directly affect these people’s lives?” Gutierrez said.

Nichole.Beck gives the donated coats to Coleman, who can give them to people on the streets. Places such Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church downtown receive the coats from Coleman and give them to their clients.

Chicago Lights has a variety of case management services aimed at helping clients find housing, jobs, and self-sustainability. Chicago Lights relies on donations from organizations such as Button & Zipper to fulfill its mission.

“It’s unbelievable,” Jill Keiser, Volunteer Program Manager at Fourth Presbyterian, said. “It will enable us not to have to turn someone away from us for services.”

Photo at top: Button & Zipper has been collecting and providing coats since 2013. (Ryan Connelly Holmes/Medill)