Biddeford Police Officer Justin Lavertue and Community Engagement Specialist Jacob Hammer sort through donated coats on Jan. 20. BPD had organized a drive to collect 250 coats to help keep residents warm; 1,100 were donated. Courtesy photo/Danica Lamontagne, City of Biddeford

BIDDEFORD — The coat drive organized by the Biddeford Police Department just before Christmas has been a jaw dropping success, by anyone’s standards.

BPD and its partnering agencies aimed for 250 new or gently-used coats, in a bid to keep kids and adults warm this winter.

They received a whopping 1,100 coats in all sizes, styles and colors — more than four times the goal.

“I was completely blown away” by the response, said Biddeford Police Department’s Community Engagement Specialist Jacob Hammer. “We had nine bins, all over town. I probably emptied them once a day — they were always full. It is a testament to the generosity of the community.”

The police department partnered with United Way of York County and York County Community Action

Corporation, and Biddeford Housing Authority lent storage space for the coats.

Biddeford Police Officer Justin Lavertue, Community Engagement Specialist Jacob Hammer, York County Community Action Corp. Outreach Worker Vassie Fowler, Jason Ketterick of United Way of York County and YCCAC Outreach Services Manager Heidi Jackson were overwhelmed by the generosity of Biddeford residents, who donated 1,100 coats to keep those who need them warm this winter. Courtesy photo/Danica Lamontagne, City of Biddeford

“There are all kinds of coats, brand new ones still in bags or on hangers, and lightly used ones,” said Hammer. He said he met with York County Community Action Corporation Outreach Worker Vassie Fowler and Jason Ketterick of United Way of York County, and the three discussed how they’d proceed with sorting and other details.

“We took a mountain of coats and turned it into three mountains of coats,” said Hammer, sorting them into piles for kids and adults.

Fowler said 125 coats went out on Wednesday, Jan. 20 to Biddeford schools, and more were to be distributed over the following days.

Fowler said she’s been in contact with a number of agencies in Biddeford, to let them know there are free coats available.

“I am in contact with Seeds of Hope, Second Congregational Church, WIC, Heart of Biddeford and the Biddeford General Assistance Office,” said Fowler, listing some local agencies. “Also, the Homeless Alliance, and a number of other groups and even some families.”

She said the number of coats exceeded the 250 goal very early on in the campaign, and the number kept climbing.

“It truly speaks to the generous hearts in our community, that during the peak of the pandemic, people who are facing their own challenges thought of someone else, wanted to care for a complete stranger,” said Fowler. “I am a humbled and proud member of our community today, I have always believed that we are better together, that neighbors helping neighbors helps a community thrive. Today, I feel as though anything is possible, especially when we work together.”

Hammer said he was shocked at the final tally of coats.

“I was not surprised at the generosity,” he added.

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