VCU students and employees donate more than 100 winter coats to Richmond southside apartment complex

December 14, 2021

More than 100 winter coats for adults and children that were donated by Virginia Commonwealth University students, faculty and staff were distributed Friday at Southwood Apartments, a South Richmond apartment complex nicknamed “La Mancha” that is home to a significant number of Latinx immigrants.

The coat drive was organized by Anita Nadal, an assistant professor of Spanish in the School of World Studies, and faculty fellow for community engagement in the College of Humanities and Sciences, along with VCU service-learning students.

“Many people who live here are in dire need of warm coats and clothing,” Nadal said. “So I approached Faye Belgrave, [Ph.D., associate dean for equity and community partnerships] and said, ‘Is this something we could do as a college? We could approach different units and set up boxes for donations.’”

Coat donations were collected by the School of World Studies, the Department of Political ScienceDepartment of Psychology and the Department of Sociology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, as well as the School of Social Work, the School of Education and Barnes & Noble @ VCU.

In addition to winter coats, the donations also included hats, gloves, shoes and other clothing. Participants also donated $340 to cover the costs of dry cleaning, done in partnership with 5th Avenue Cleaners.

Allison Bell, executive assistant to the dean in the School of Social Work, helped organize the coat drive, and had the idea of making it a friendly competition among units.

“All the units and departments at the university, we’ve been separated for so long. And I thought we could use something that could be a little fun and a little competitive across campus and maybe have a little bit of the camaraderie that we've been missing,” Bell said. “We had all these units come together, and they paired up together and challenged one another.”

people lined up to receive winter coats
Southwood Apartments residents wait to pick up donated winter coats collected by VCU students, faculty and staff on Friday. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)

On Friday, the coats were distributed to Southwood residents who pre-registered. When a message about the coats distribution was sent out to residents, they booked all registrations within two hours.

Along with Nadal and Bell, VCU students Keaton Thorum, Abigail Andrade and Ishaan Nandwani were on hand to help distribute the coats. Also at the event were local health officials, who provided residents with free face masks.

Thorum, a junior double majoring in chemistry and Spanish, was helping as part of his Hispanic Immigrants in the U.S. course taught by Nadal. Thorum had previously visited Southwood Apartments for VCU service learning to hand out face masks and provide information about COVID-19 vaccines.

A student in the Honors College’s guaranteed admission program, Thorum will go on to attend the School of Pharmacy following graduation. His service learning at Southwood, he said, will help him be a better health care provider.

“By volunteering here, I think one of the biggest things is that it’s providing me with the opportunity to learn through an aspect that's not just straight-up classroom learning,” Thorum said. “I'm trying to become the best health care provider that I can be by [finding opportunities like this] to learn more and be more empathetic.”