The Wesleyan Veterans Organization (WesVO) is running a Share-the-Warmth winter drive from Monday, Nov. 1, through Saturday, Dec. 18, in support of three organizations: Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), the Center for Children’s Advocacy, and the Women and Families Center of Connecticut. WesVO is asking for donations of warm clothes, toys, school supplies, and hygiene products to be dropped off at donation boxes in High Rise, Fauver, the Hewitt Lounge, the WestCo Lounge, Butterfield A, the Exley lobby, Cardinal Tech, the Resource Center, and Allbritton Center, as well as at various locations in Middletown.
WesVO Events Coordinator Desaree Edwards ’25 explained that this initiative was partially brought about by the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the refugee crisis that followed.
“The prompt…was the events that happened in Afghanistan, particularly the large influx of refugees, and how that affected a lot of the veterans, even those that weren’t necessarily deployed in Afghanistan,” Edwards said. “The past 20 years have been geared towards that one particular goal, and the way that it ended up was heavy on a lot of the veterans’ hearts. So I think that realizing that we had a refugee center that was so close to us, we thought, ‘Oh, maybe we can make a difference there!’”
President of WesVO Elle Bixby ’22 also spoke on the group’s unique position to be involved in both University affairs and local initiatives in Middletown.
“We really wanted this to be a joint campus-and-Middletown type drive,” Bixby said. “As veterans…we’re students, but we’re generally older, so we have a lot more connection with the town in general. So we wanted to be able to help bridge whatever gaps there may be and have something that shows the campus that you don’t have to just do an on-campus thing as an organization, it can actually spread into the whole community.”
In addition to supporting IRIS, WesVO is seeking toys in good condition, along with warm clothes and hygiene items for children for the local Center for Children’s Advocacy, which helps to fight for justice and equity for vulnerable children in Connecticut. Edwards said WesVO chose this group to emphasize the connection between students of all ages.
“We decided to also collect donations for the child advocacy center simply because, you know, we’re students,” Edwards said. “Even though we’re college level students, there is quite a need for clothing and hygiene items for the homeless youth in Connecticut. So it kinda paired well with us hosting the donation drive for IRIS as well.”
Any goods that WesVO receives that are not needed or wanted by IRIS or the Center for Children’s Advocacy will be donated to the Women and Families Center of Connecticut, Edwards explained.
“It will depend on how many items we get that [IRIS or the Center for Children’s Advocacy] can use,” Edwards said. “We’re doing a three-tiered approach: we’re going to give the items that we can to IRIS…[but] for instance, IRIS isn’t necessarily looking for toys, they’re looking more for the warm clothing, and then toys we’re going to donate to the child advocacy center, and then following that, if there’s anything that those two organizations didn’t need, we plan to donate it to the Women and Families Center of Connecticut…. It’s mostly dependent on how many donations we get.”
Bixby spoke about the on-campus side of donations, emphasizing the importance of outreach in previously untapped areas.
“I reached out to some of the people that I’ve worked with for [Residential] Life and I was like, ‘Can we put a box in one of your dorms?’ and we actually got [a] really good response on that,” Bixby said. “So we have boxes in High Rise and Fauver, over in Hewitt, even in Westco, things like that. Normally, those aren’t really places that get as much attention for like, ‘Hey, let’s collect things,’ but it seems obvious! The place where people live, that might be the easiest way to get folks who have something extra to be donated.”
Edwards worked more with the Middletown community at large in order to integrate the drive with other efforts by business owners in the area.
“I reached out to probably 30 businesses [and churches] in the Middletown community to try to get places that we can put our donation boxes,” Edwards said. “We received some feedback, not everyone responded. A lot of people do their own donation drives, et cetera.”
As a result of this outreach process, WesVO was able to form a meaningful partnership with the boutique cinder + salt on Main Street, and ended up taking part in Small Business Saturday, hosted by cinder + salt.
In total, WesVO has collected about 10 large boxes of goods, though Edwards says she hoped this number would be higher given the size of the University community. Part of this, she chalks up to low publicity, as this is the organization’s first iteration of the drive.
“This is our first time doing something like this and I’m a [first year], so I’m trying to coordinate this as someone that is not really as familiar with the best channels to go about discussing things,” Edwards said. “We plan on doing this again next year, provided that nothing crazy happens and there’s still interest, and I think next year I’ll probably focus more on utilizing social media versus just making posters and stuff, because that did not seem to be as effective.”
Nevertheless, both Bixby and Edwards remained confident that the Share-the-Warmth drive would allow them to help the community in new and exciting ways, and hope that it can set a precedent for more interaction between the University and surrounding communities.
“Something that we really are set on doing is not just facing the community as a club from the position of Wesleyan, but being a part both [the University and Middletown] because we are all residents of Middletown at the same time as we are students,” Bixby said. “So I feel that it’s a really important thing to act that way.”
Sam Hilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.