PITTSBURG — It all started with a post.
JD Simpson was scrolling through his Facebook a while back and found an image his friend Stephanie Etzen had shared from another account.
The post was an image of coats wrapped around poles in Turkey and Bulgaria for people who are homeless or in need of a coat. Simpson said he later learned a couple in Indiana also leaves coats out for people.
“It gives them the opportunity to know they actually matter and someone is actually watching out for them,” Simpson said about people who are homeless or in need of a coat.
He shared the post and said “it would be great to see something like this in Pittsburg.”
When Simpson shared the post he got a lot of support from his friends on social media. With that support, he decided to reach out to the city of Pittsburg and see if they would allow area residents to do the same.
“I think it's great, I think there are a lot of people in our community — there are a lot of people in the country — that struggle to stay warm this time of year and may not know where to go or they may not feel comfortable asking for help,” Pittsburg Public Information Officer Sarah Runyon said. “I think that this initiative is a really wonderful way to do something good and to spread good will in our community.”
Etzen, who lived in Arizona before moving to the Pittsburg area, agreed and said “it made sense, it doesn’t matter where you go there’s always a need.”
After the city approved his project Simpson created a Facebook group called “Warming Those in Need” and away it went. Before he knew it there were 100 group members, then 200 and over 400 by Friday evening.
“Honestly, when I posted this on Facebook I didn’t think it would go much further than an idea,” Simpson said. “I never imagined it would come to this point, especially now that we have well over 300 members. I was thinking maybe 20 members, mostly close friends.”
This is an example of how social media could be used for good, Runyon said adding that it is also a “great example of ways people can use social media to help others, to rally the community behind something that makes a difference,” she said.
People from Mississippi and Simpson’s boss from the Kansas City area also shared about the group. Notice of the page got around his work and area schools. Southeast High School’s KAY’s Club joined and Northeast High School’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) also brought jackets to class to give to others.
“It’s good to see kids these days are being taught good morals,” Simpson said.
Area businesses have also joined in, a barrel for jackets and coats was placed at Jimmy B’s and it was filled. Miller's Professional Imaging also provided a donation of coats and blankets, Simpson said.
One of the first people to hang up a jacket was Simpson’s friend and Warming Those in Need group member Colleen McGuire who left a jacket around the flagpole at Pittsburg City Hall. Now coats have been spotted across town, Downtown Pittsburg and near Dillons, Walmart and Dollar Tree.
Simpson’s own experiences gave him another reason to leave something behind to keep people warm.
“I see homelessness and people in need far more than I want to, I’ve actually been that person myself,” adding that one of his friends in the group have seen rough times too. “It takes a toll on your pride, I know it sure did when I had that problem and it’s hard to ask for help when you really need it but this gives people that need the help the opportunity to receive that help — anonymously so that they can hold that pride in.
“We don’t know their stories, they could be laid off from a job, it could be bad choices. Whatever it may be, they are still people, they are still humans and because they matter.”
If people would like to join in, they can reach out to Simpson or one of the group administrators on the Facebook page. He said the group will accept any winter wear donation and place them outdoors on poles for people. Monetary donations will be used to purchase new coats at local stores, he said, or people can simply leave a coat or other winter wear on their own with a note.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.