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Jennifer Ray, left, and Gloria Damron display the mountains of coats, gloves and hats collected over the last few weeks of the Come to the Table’s first ever coat drive. The two kicked off the coat drive the first week of November and ended up with more than 250 coats to give away to Tullahomans in need.

The Come to the Table Ministry may be new, but it has already made a large impact on the community.

Every Tuesday evening at 5, people in need of a good, hot meal can come to Damron’s restaurant on East Lincoln Street and dine free of charge.

But the ministry hasn’t stopped there.

This month, the ministry set out to provide as many people in need of warm, dry winter clothes the pieces they need to survive the harsh winter winds.

The mainly social media-driven campaign has seen more than 200 gently used or new coats piled high inside the office in the back of Gloria Damron’s family’s restaurant.

In addition to the coats, the drive also collected gloves or mittens and hats – all items people utilize in the harsh winds of the winter months.

Damron and her partner, Jennifer Ray, put out an alert for people in the community to donate their gently used coats or buy new ones for people of all ages – infants to the elderly, boys, girls, men and women.

According to Damron and Ray, they wanted to do more to help those in need in Tullahoma, particularly after building relationships with them every week when they came in for a hot meal.

“Every week we serve folks who don’t have the basics – young babies to older adults,” they posted in a Come to the Table Facebook post. “We would love to make sure they all have a coat, gloves and toboggan to stay warm this winter. Cold weather is here, so the need is now!”

According to Ray, this was just one more way she saw the pair could help people in need.

“The two of us are always looking for an opportunity to serve our community,” Ray said. “I teach and so I know there’s kids with no coats and no socks and no gloves, so I just mentioned, ‘I think there’s a need.’”

Damron agreed, saying it broke her heart to see so many children and adults come in to her restaurant every week lacking simple items like dry socks or a good hat to keep the cold away.

The month’s early cold snap only reinforced that need in the community, Ray said.

“We had kids coming in with no sock on their feet and sandals on,” she said.

It wasn’t long before The Ice Cream Distillery wanted to join in on the action and help the drive spread the word.

The business offered to serve as a secondary collection point for the drive, giving those who donated a free topping on whatever ice cream they purchased.

As of Tuesday evening, the ice cream shop still have their own pile of coats, hats and gloves to be collected by a Come to the Table volunteer, according to Ray, meaning that more than 250 coats had been collected for people of all ages in the community.

In general, Ray said the preferred items were those purchased new specifically for the drive, but they wouldn’t turn away anything that was clean, dry and like-new.

The drive will be handing out all its collected items later today (Sunday, Dec. 1) at Damron’s restaurant, in what Ray called a “cocoa, cookies and coats” giveaway.

This coat drive may not be the only one the ministry holds, according to Ray and Damron.

Both called the response they’d received over the last few weeks “great” and “wonderful,” crediting the success to the army of volunteers and giving people in the community willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

“Our regular volunteers here help get the word out to their circles of influence and it just kind of evolves,” Ray said.

“It’s a wonderful experience so far,” Damron said.

Seeing the positive response they had for this drive, both women said they might even look into holding another one later in the winter as the cold temperatures hover.

“We’ll just see what the need is,” Damon said.

“We’re always looking for things to do [for the community],” Ray said.

For more information on the coat drive or the Come to the Table ministry, visit Come to the Table on Facebook or email cometothetable37388@gmail.com

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.

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