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Winter clothes giveaway gets disappointing turnout

Operation Cold Kidz
Operation Cold Kidz volunteers Matthew Garson, second from left, and Doug Rud, right, assist a Rochester family with the selection of their brand new and fancy outerwear Saturday. The event was held at First Student school bus garage in Rochester. From left, brothers Eric Morales, Felipe Morales and Brian Morales are pictured with their mother, Maria Velazquez.

Sometimes even heroes have a tough day.

Linda Bowar knows all about that.

On Saturday, Bowar had 250 brand new coats, and sets of hats, mittens and scarves ready to give away to needy children and their families at her "Operation Cold Kidz" event. She had recruited volunteers from First Student bus company, where she works, set up racks of clothing in the bus company garage, and contacted every media outlet and school in the city to notify them of the giveaway.

"She's a hero in the community," said Karen Benson, manager of the Rochester JC Penney store, which had donated some of the coats.

But when Bowar threw open the doors at 9 a.m., she and her volunteers found themselves waiting and waiting and waiting for kids and parents to arrive.


"I know there are so many kids out there who need this," Bowar said. "I see the need every day."

The handful who found their way to the First Student school bus garage Saturday had their pick of new winter clothing.

But at the end of the day, Bowar was left with dozens of coats, hats, mittens and scarves, and was struggling to contain her disappointment.

The effort got started in early December when Bowar, a school bus driver for First Student, was touched by one of the kids on her bus. "I had a little boy get on my bus crying because he was so cold," she said. "He told me his mother had no money to buy a new winter coat for him. It broke my heart."

After her bus route, Bowar went into action. She went to the JC Penney store at Apache Mall, where she was able to tell the story and purchase at a discount a complete winter outfit for her young bus rider.

"I gave it to him that night, and the next morning his mom came with a batch of cookies they had baked," Bowar said. "That's when I said, 'I've got to do more.'"

So she solicited donations and discounts from every department store in town. "I want these kids to have new, not second-hand," she said. She went to area restaurants for gift cards to hand out to families.

Then came the letdown of Saturday morning when so few turned up to take advantage of a helping hand. Was it the cold weather, the location, a lack of publicity, or some other reason, Bowar wondered.


Like all heroes, though, Bowar was ready to pick herself up, dust herself off and start again. She was already brainstorming new ideas.

"We'll find a way to get these coats to kids," she said.

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