The Saint Vincent de Paul Society of Alameda County needs winter coats to give to those who don’t have one. Melanie Diegel works for the charity, so she knows this. But when she pulled up to work on a rainy morning a few days ago and saw dozens of men and women standing in the wet cold, forming a line an hour before the dining room doors would open for lunch service, she really knew it. Seeing their scant protection against the elements jarred her—men were wearing sneakers, but no socks, and many people were without coats.
So Diegel began collecting coats for people who need them to stay warm these cold months. As giving and events manager for Saint Vincent, it’s part of her job, but she says she’s compelled by the need she sees. “The things we take for granted—shoes that will keep the rain out, a warm jacket; we’re trying to get people to donate them,” she says. “It’s about keeping warm in the winter.”
On Thursday, December 6, Oaklanders will have an opportunity to gift coats to the organization in an unusual setting: Customers who walk into Farley’s East café between 5 and 9 pm will find Saint Vincent banners in the window display, staffers manning an information table and chatting with guests, free appetizers and a collection barrel for winter-wear. Diegel hopes people will donate old or unwanted jackets, she says, “Instead of them taking up room in the closet.”
Since the uptown coffee shop opened in mid 2009, Farley’s owner Chris Hillyard has featured a different local nonprofit organization every month. Hillyard lends groups the display window of his café and works with each of them on a happy hour event to raise profits. Twenty percent of all food, coffee, beer and wine sales from the night are donated to the nonprofit, he says, and representatives from the organizations share information about their work and answer questions. “We’re trying to meet people casually, one-on-one,” Diegel says. “It’s a very neighborhood sort of event.”
Hillyard says he’s been aware of Saint Vincent’s work in Oakland for some time—the charity feeds some 700 people five days a week at the dining facility; runs day centers that provide a safe space for homeless men and women to shower, do laundry and socialize; and provides job training programs. He had even hired graduates from the charity’s Kitchen of Champions culinary training program, which prepares low-income and formerly incarcerated people for kitchen work. Plus, the dining room facility is only a few blocks away on 23rd Street and San Pablo Avenue. “They were just a logical fit,” he says. “It was very timely that we could do it this month when they’re doing a coat drive.”
Saint Vincent collects and distributes coats year-round, but the demand is strongest during the cold months, and supplies don’t always match necessity. “The reality is that we have more folks in need than we have coats,” Diegel says. In mid-November the charity got 150 jackets from Kaiser in Pleasanton, donated by the company’s employees, she says, and in just a couple of hours they were snapped up. People eating in the dining room got an opportunity to look through the racks of men’s, women’s and children’s coats in the nearby community center; some waited in line for 20 minutes for a chance to hunt for good fit. “People were so grateful and happy,” Diegal says.
To bring in coat donations, Saint Vincent puts out a call in its quarterly newsletter and reaches out to corporations that coordinate winter clothes drives among employees. But that’s not enough. “To be able to meet the need we have to do some last-minute drives,” Diegel says.
Diegel says using Farley’s front window and holding a happy hour event there is a chance to highlight the charity’s programs in a novel way; and, she hopes, to reach a new audience. Even though the organization has been in Alameda County nearly 75 years, she says many people aren’t aware of the work it does. “That’s a big opportunity for us,” she says. “We appreciate all of that.”
In the past, Farley’s has featured nonprofits ranging from Great Oakland Public Schools, a group that advocates for quality public education, to youth soccer camp My Yute Soccer, which exposes children to cultural diversity through the sport. Hillyard says it’s hard to choose from the many important organizations working in the city. “I try to reach a wide range of nonprofits that reach out to different groups in need,” he says.
For Hillyard, promoting the work of nonprofits is a way to ground his business in the neighborhood. His father opened the original Farley’s in San Francisco 24 years ago, and because the new spot didn’t have the history of the original, he wanted a way to lay roots. “We’re part of the community,” he says. “We want to create events that are for the community.”
Hillyard says he’ll be at the Thursday event and he’ll bring a coat, too—just as soon as he decides which one. “I’ll find one that someone can use more than I can,” he says.
For more information about making a donation to Saint Vincent, visit the organization’s website, www.svdp-alameda.org, or call 510.877.9254. Farley’s East is located at 33 Grand Avenue in Oakland.