PROVIDENCE – On a legendary day for skyrocketing consumer spending, the Testoni family turned their privilege into tangible relief for those less fortunate.
The East Greenwich family – Pam, Paul and their daughters Lauren and Sarah – hosted the Buy Nothing Friday Coat Giveaway for five years, but the event dates back 25 years.
Pam Testoni had volunteered in the coat distribution for 20 years. When she learned that the previous organizer, Greg Gerritt, was retiring, Pam and Lauren were quick to step in.
“We come from privilege,” Lauren said. “We have to rely on our neighbors to give back. So many people don’t understand how easy it is to give back.
“I raised my kids to give back,” Pam said. “It’s a way of life for my family and we brought in our friends. “
‘May this coat also warm your heart’
Robin Sousa Jolin, from Cranston, is one of them. Jolin slips a handwritten note into the pocket of each coat that says, “May this coat also warm your heart.”
Another family friend, Alicia Leith of East Greenwich, used her connections to have an entire pallet of hand sanitizer delivered to the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Providence, where the event took place.
Paul Testoni, a former firefighter, cries as he talks about what it means for the child without a winter coat, the young couple in their infancy, the single woman who is struggling to get by with Social Security checks.
“I got enlisted,” he joked. “Each time, I say it’s my last year.
Her first year, a mother came with three small children. The following year it was five.
“When you see the need in them, it’s so sad,” he said. “We welcome everyone with open arms. “
Something for everyone
This year, thousands of winter coats, jackets, hats and gloves – the largest collection ever – were donated by families in Rhode Island. Some carried famous brands. Others looked brand new. Many children’s hats and scarves have been hand-knitted.
Buyers were encouraged to take as many coats as they wanted.
“We just started a new life together,” said Louis Rodriguez, 21, who was shopping with his girlfriend, Naomi Canales, 22. “We’re trying to figure out our bills. That’s why we’re here.
Dozens of volunteers acted as personal shoppers, tracking down a kid’s size 4 or a parka warm enough for winter chores. Others sorted through the piles of coats that were stretched out. A rack was dedicated to children’s jackets.
About thirty students from La Salle Academy, a Catholic school in Providence, were among the assistants.
Elderly Tallula Rein listened to the story of a woman’s life, an arc that went from bad to worse – an unscrupulous mortgage lender, job loss, illness and an indifferent doctor. Rein’s eyes filled, but she never looked away.
“It’s a joy in itself,” Reinsid said, “to come together to help people. You don’t realize how lucky you are.
Elizabeth Leblanc, of Providence, was at church with her two sons, Carter and Cal. For five years she came here for help. Friday, she one of the helpers.
“I was homeless then,” she said. “This coat gift has helped me a lot. I feel good to come back.
Becka Carroll of Cranston calls Buy Nothing Friday her favorite day of the year. She manages the social media for the event, and thanks in part to her, the donations have exceeded all expectations.
“These are the tangible rewards,” she said.
This article originally appeared in The Providence Journal: Buy Nothing Friday Coat Giveaway warms Providence, Rhode Island