AUSTINTOWN — Youngstown Blue Coats, a Hubbard-based nonprofit, pulled into the parking lot of the Leonard Kirtz School this week in their shiny blue and white bus.
For a second year, the organization partnered with the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities to collect coats and other warming supplies for the homeless veterans and their families.
Patty Summers, President and CEO of Blue Coats, said she founded the organization to fill a local need. She had served with the Sub Zero Mission in Painesville but wanted to work a little closer to her Hubbard roots. Sub Zero assisted them in getting Youngstown Blue Coats up and running.
“We’re in our sixth season,” Summers said. “We cover Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Portage, Summit and Cuyahoga counties in Ohio and Allegheny, Butler, Beaver and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania. Last year we ministered to 2,500 — 693 of them veterans.”
She said homeless veterans have become a problem in the area and Blue Coats is bringing aid directly to where they sleep. The organization uses a converted school bus provided by the Sub Zero Mission.
“They were given a bus and they didn’t need it,” Summers said. “In the end they passed it on to us.”
Along with the bus’s acceptance, the bus was named in honor of World War II hero and Silver Star recipient Alexander Luke, a Marine who died in a battle near Tulagi, Solomon Islands, in August 1942. His name was promised to be placed on the front of the bus.
To fill the bus, a team of volunteers go to different locations to collect coats, new socks, hats, gloves, shoes, scarves, tents and blankets. Each item is inspected and placed in a bin in preparation for distribution.
Summers said the bus could then go to areas where homeless veterans spend the night. The veterans receive the coats and other warm clothing and blankets.
“We want to protect them from freezing,” Summers said.
Two years ago, Youngstown Blue Coats partnered with the MCBDD to host a coat drive at the Leonard Kirtz School. In that first year, cars lined up and the bus filled in two short hours, recalled Emily Martinez, MCBDD director of community services.
“We provide services to the community, but this is one way we can give back by collaborating with (this nonprofit),” Martinez said.
She said some local residents even knit scarves to donate to the veterans.
The organization also has several veterans who help collect and distribute the donated goods. Jay Hovanec, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said he just wanted to give back. He also agrees with Vietnam War veteran John Johnston: “Service never ends.”
Last year, Summers said the coat ride didn’t happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year it’s back and more than made up for the missed year. In fact, Summers had to add a truck and trailer to the bus to handle it all.
If you would like to donate, visit YtownBlueCoats.org. The organization’s telephone contact is 330-531-1762.
Summers said the Blue Coats were based in a building on Youngstown-Hubbard Road in Hubbard but would be vacating that location in a month. She said the organization is looking for a new home.