ISHPEMING - If you live in the western part of Marquette County, you may have discovered something unusual left at your door last weekend: a plastic ShopKo shopping bag affixed with a bright pink slip of paper asking you to stuff the bag full of new or gently used winter clothes.
The bags were distributed Saturday by volunteers for the fourth annual Project Keep Kids Warm, which collects clothing for needy youths.
Begun by Wesley United Methodist Church of Ishpeming with the goal of being involved in outreach ministry in the community, project coordinator Dick Derby said the effort now involves a still-growing coalition, comprised of the Cross Bridge, United Evangelical Covenant and Faith Lutheran churches in Ishpeming; the Negaunee Ministerial Association; the Salvation Army in Ishpeming; the St. Vincent de Paul stores in Ishpeming, Negaunee and Michigamme; local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts units; the Women of Steel from the local United Steelworkers union; and area high schools working in concert to help needy families in the coming bitterly cold months.
"It really has expanded, and that's what happens as a project gains momentum and it gains familiarity," Derby said. "A number of people say, 'We'd like to participate - what can we do? How can we be involved?' So it's been fun to see it grow and take on a new dimension."
Derby said nearly 300 volunteers are involved in the project, and last weekend they distributed 4,000 bags to houses in the city of Ishpeming and Ishpeming Township, 2,000 in the Negaunee area and 500 around Republic and Michigamme - a wider area than in the past, as more churches and organizations learn of the project and want to contribute.
This Saturday, volunteers will go back out - this time to collect what they hope will be bags full of winter clothes.
If on par with previous years, Derby said project volunteers can be expected to collect between 6,000 and 7,000 winter clothing items, ranging from jackets to boots and hats to mittens.
Then on Oct. 26, a free shopping day will be held at the Ishpeming Armory to distribute the clothing. Last year, Derby said several hundred families were able to outfit their kids, and he hopes the project can help even more families this year.
The armory will be set up with tables separated into girls and boys clothing from ages infant all the way to 18.
Any remaining clothing will be distributed throughout the area - St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army take a portion, as well as the Women's Center in Marquette, D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans, Janzen House and area schools.
"In the end there's nothing left," Derby said. "It's all distributed to numerous organizations, and they're all very grateful for those donations. In fact, the schools have said, 'Please bring more ... Every day we're handing them out to kids who are about to go out in subzero weather, and they're not dressed adequately.'
"And that's what it's all about for Project Keep Kids Warm."
Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.