Some 50 Rotary Club of Ithaca members (more than a quarter of the club!), their families and friends pitched in to make the 2009 Share the Warmth clothing drive the most bountiful ever.
An estimated three tons of wintertime insulation - hats and scarves, coats and sweaters, mittens and much-needed blankets and more - were collected from 13 Share the Warmth drop-off boxes throughout the community.  Donated items were sorted and folded at a temporary site, and delivered (thanks to Finger Lakes ReUse) to Catholic Charities' Samaritan Center, according to drive co-chairs Jan Hesbon and Tom Trencansky.

 "We had a special need for kids' things and warm blankets - they were being distributed as fast as they came in - and the community responded with unprecedented generosity," said Catholic Charities Executive Director (and Rotarian) Chris Sanchirico.  "This shows what Rotary and hundreds and hundreds of people in this community can do when we put our hearts and minds together."

The annual drive's first task was to get the wooden Share the Warmth collection boxes out of storage (thankfully, Rotarian Noel Desch has a barn for off-season) and set up in spaces graciously provided by local businesses and organizations.  Announcements in the local news media and hard-to-miss posters built awareness of the drive.

"We expected the drive to be slow at first, and it was as peoples' thoughts turned from a temperate Fall this year to the winter ahead," said Jan.  But some places, like Kendal, filled the boxes week after week," said Tom.  "Then we really peaked after an encouraging article in the Ithaca Journal.  Our sorting center  (the former "Rock, Paper, Scissors" store in East Hill Plaza, on loan from Cornell Real Estate) was filled to the rafters."

Volunteers who signed up at Wednesday meetings could expect a "reminder" call from Loralyn Light the day before - a key part in the logistics of a drive with so many workers. Rotarian who made the rounds to pick up hundreds of pounds of donated goods (mostly clothing, off course, but including a much-appreciated bag of chocolate bars at one site) noted the increasing trend.  By December 5, Scott Russell's oversize van had to make two trips to hold all the warmth being shared on his assigned route.

Part of the fun of sorting donated items was modeling funky hats, agreed Tom's family (wife, Nancy, and daughters Lisa and Michelle) who had an additional skill: "They taught me that buttons and zippers are on 'the other side' on women's and girls' garments," said the no-longer-clueless Tom.

Besides the chocolate bars (a handy energy boost for volunteers at the sorting sessions) there was one inadvertent "donation," as recalled by Jan Hesbon:  "The evening of the first sort, Janet Steiner received a call from a Kendal resident who thought her handmade sweater had accidentally fallen into the Red Box," Jan said, noting that the Kendal collection box was located under coat racks in the cloakroom of the main building. " I talked with her, and she identified the sweater by color, but more importantly it had a tag noting that it was handmade by Florence Kaufman.  We looked in all the bagged sweaters and failed to find that one. On the extra evening of sorting on December 8, I was packing sweaters.  I always look at the labels and I saw the name 'Florence Kaufman.' Talk about being at the right place at the right time - the very last minute!" The sweater will be reunited with its very happy original owner, he said.

Hundreds of other donated items that were not ready for winter distribution in Tompkins County (because they needed cleaning or repair, or were out of season) went to a Rochester-based organization, for further processing and distribution.

From the drive launch (November 7), through four weekends of collections and sorting "parties," to the final delivery to the Samaritan Center and return of the boxes to Noel's barn (December 6) more Rotarians participated than can be named in one article, noted Ithaca Rotary President Janet Steiner. "Rotarians worked hard to make a positive contribution to our community.  We can be proud of an important job well done. Congratulations! And a big Rotary "thank you' to everyone else who helped by donating warm clothing and, indeed, sharing the warmth!"