Foster Fuels Does More Than Heat Homes This Winter
By Rachel Dalton | Photos by Ashlee Glen
In 2019, Jennifer Bryant-Foster saw a need. On a visit to a local elementary school, she noticed that several children were playing on a chilly playground without coats. So she sent a plea for outgrown coats to friends and neighbors. That very night, around 20 coats appeared on her doorstep. The “Spread the Warmth” campaign was born.
By the end of 2019, the campaign had gathered, cleaned, and donated more than 400 coats, setting in motion a heartwarming success story that has since evolved into a full-fledged annual operation under the Watt Foster Family Foundation banner.
The foundation’s offices are now equipped with a bank of commercial washers and dryers, symbolizing Foster Fuels’ deep commitment to making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
Collection containers for coats found their way into all Foster Fuels showrooms and local community business partners. Even during the challenging year of 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation managed to amass an impressive 900 coats.
In 2022, the “Spread the Warmth” campaign reached a remarkable milestone by donating over 3,500 coats to school students and local community foundations, providing much-needed warmth, comfort, and safety to adults and families facing cold weather hardships. These coats have become a source of confidence for countless individuals in communities served by Foster Fuels.
Community involvement and giving has always been close to the heart of the Foster family, with Watt Foster, President and CEO of Foster Fuels, at the helm. The words “it is more blessed to give than receive” bred Watt’s desire to further the legacy of giving instilled in him from a young age. His desire to give combined with Jennifer’s passion for serving women and children of the community led to the rapid growth of this annual coat drive.
What started as a grassroots effort has flourished into a mission with more than 70 local businesses, public and private schools, and even several nursing homes as community partners collecting coats across four counties. With over 3,500 coats collected last year and over 1,200 collected in the first 2 weeks of this year’s campaign, Watt saw a need for more efficient coat transport and surprised Jennifer with a truck he found at auction. The Foster marketing team worked on a full wrap design to serve as a mobile billboard for the foundation’s mission and they even rolled out a Spread the Warmth Truck tour date calendar for 2023.
“I just want to help lead the community in an effort to help others with something so many of us take for granted,” said Jennifer. “A coat is something we should all have—young to old—and if we can work together to make it happen, let’s do it!”
“I’ve been privileged to witness Jennifer in action at different meetings and events throughout the community,” explained Cameron Anctil, Vice President of Marketing at Foster Fuels. “It’s incredible to think back to the beginning when we had to approach businesses and ask them to place coat collection boxes in their lobbies. Now, the tables have turned, and local businesses are approaching us, eager to partner and support the Spread the Warmth campaign.”
Looking ahead with unwavering determination, the campaign had an ambitious goal for the 2023-24 cold winter season: to collect, clean, and distribute 5,000 coats within the community. Each coat undergoes meticulous inspection before and after washing to ensure that zippers remain intact and pockets are free of debris. Coats with irreparable damage find a new purpose at Mission Thrift, a non-profit thrift store operated by Freedom 424, where they contribute to fundraising efforts.
If you are a business who wants to get involved, Foster Fuels makes it easy for you. They will arrange to get your business a box, flyer, and yard sign to use for collection. When the box fills, the business gives Foster Fuels a call, they schedule pickup, and take the coats to be cleaned and processed. From there, the coats go right back out into the community. Some businesses have them pick up on a weekly basis, others monthly. They also take coat donations year-round at all Foster Fuels Hearth & Home showroom locations.
Foster Fuels has relationships with several community organizations as well as the local schools who know about the program and can reach out when they have a need. They process the coats by size and gender, so the team can go into their inventory to pull exactly what is requested, when it is requested. This year specifically, they had many requests for pre-k and smaller sized coats, so they are asking for people to check their closets for all coats, but especially smaller sizes. They also collect hats, gloves, and scarves.
“A donated coat for our neighbors, whether homeless or don’t have inadequate heating, could be the difference between life and death,” said Todd Blake, Executive Director of Park View Community Mission, a local nonprofit that Spread the Warmth donates coats to on a bi-weekly basis.
If you are a family in need of coats this winter, you are encouraged to call Foster Fuels directly by phone or email, or families are welcome to request coats through their student’s school office or community resource of their choice.