Thousand Islands Playhouse warms community with free outdoor coat closet

Two fully-stocked racks of used coats await their new owners outside of the Thousand Islands Playhouse. Submitted Photo.

As temperatures drop and the snow begins to pile up, the staff at Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, with the help of donations, are keeping the community warm for the second winter in a row. The local Salvation Army thrift store closed its doors in late 2020; That’s when Brett Christopher, Managing Artistic Director, and the staff of the Playhouse, sought to close the gap created by the newfound lack of low-cost outdoor gear. Thus, the concept for their outdoor coat closet was birthed.

How it all started

With the closure of non-essential services during the winter of 2020, the Thousand Islands Playhouse looked for ways to keep staff busy and employed; for ways to convert into being an “essential” service; and for ways that they could “just be supportive in the community and be effective in doing so.”

“It’s really not that difficult for us to accomplish this because we have somebody on site every day and we have a central venue,” Christopher said in a phone interview on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022.

The Playhouse then put out a call over social media to the Gananoque community asking for donations of winter coats of all sizes, hats and mitts. The response they received in donations was overwhelming, Christopher relayed, and soon, an entire room of the theatre was filled with coats.

The Playhouse staff worked hard to sort and wash each one of them, ensuring every person accessing the “outdoor closet” would have a fresh, clean coat to wear.

The coats were then hung on two racks located outside, in the vestibule of the Thousand Islands Playhouse at 185 South Street in Gananoque. And the theatre has employed this model since — Anyone can come to browse the coats Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., no questions asked.

The rack will be in service as supplies last and as needs are met.

How it’s going

“It’s just been this great, fun, very small way to to have an impact in the community,” Christopher said humbly. Their “very small impact” includes giving out approximately 650 coats in the last two years, which is no small feat.

In addition to their outdoor coat closet, the Playhouse also partnered with local social organizations to give out some of their coats. “We’d call and say ‘Hey, we’ve collected all these coats. We’ve cleaned them all. Do you need some?’ So, we would drop off 20 coats here, 20 there,” Christopher explained.

This service is especially helpful to those who may be without a vehicle and unable to access low-cost outdoor gear in nearby locations, such as Kingston or Brockville.

Keeping the theatre ghosts company during lockdown

While the coat rack operates outside, the Playhouse continues to seek out opportunities to keep people coming to the theatre.

Although there are no shows running at the moment due to the current COVID-19 pandemic gathering limits, Christopher said, “it’s heated, the lights are on, so I might as well use it for something.” One of their ongoing initiatives is to be a host for blood donor clinics through the Red Cross.

The most recent donor clinic was set for today, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, however it has been postponed due to inclement weather.

Further information on the clinics at Thousand Islands Playhouse can be found on their Facebook page, and appointments to give blood can be made on the Canadian Blood Services website — as Playhouse staff pointed out, it’s just one of many ways “small ways” to help the community during this time.

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