The chilly weather didn’t deter a large group of people from showing up outside the gymnasium at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Northeast Philadelphia in the early morning hours of Sat., Dec. 2. What motivated this group to wait in line for hours? Their desire to ensure their families had warm clothing to wear this winter.

The gym was bustling with activity during the 10th annual Operation Bundle Up event hosted by Catholic Social Services’ Community Umbrella Agency (CUA) in Greater Northeast Philadelphia. It was filled with tables of donated coats, hats and gloves, representatives from community organizations sharing resource information, a DJ playing music, and activities for children including a face painter and special appearance by Santa Claus.

“Those first two hours were nonstop. It was jumping in that place,” said Ginger Smith, Director of Prevention and Intervention Services for the Community Umbrella Agency. “Our team was ready to receive the community, and at one point I stopped and turned around, and the gym was so packed. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to need a bigger space next year.’”

In addition to giving away 1,000 winter coats and accessories, hospitality is an essential component of this annual community event.

>>SEE RELATED: Community Umbrella Agency Celebrates Decade of Service to Families in Northeast Philadelphia

“We want to create a warm, inviting experience for everyone who comes,” Smith said. “We’ve been intentional about pairing up every family who comes through the door with a staff member or volunteer who helps them find the coats and matching accessories they need and makes sure they visit the vendors at the event.”

Smith initiated Operation Bundle Up to not only provide families with winter clothing but also to connect them with helpful resources.

“Each year we’ve invited community partners to join us,” she said. “It gives them an opportunity to engage with families, to disseminate their information, to link families with crucial resources that can improve their quality of life.”

Organizations sharing resources included the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, the Philadelphia Department of Health, Achieving Reunification Center of Philadelphia, Read by 4th, and the Pennypack Environmental Center. Catholic Social Services’ Saint Francis & Saint Vincent Outpatient Mental Health Program provided mental health screenings as well as a face painter at the event.

Representatives from Community Umbrella Agency 3 (CUA), supported by Concilio, were on hand for Operation Bundle Up Dec. 2. CUA 3 serves Lower Northeast Philadelphia. (Photo: Community Umbrella Agency 4)

Community partners have been an essential part of the annual giveaway program’ success. Smith said Hessert Chevrolet donated 350 coats. Cradles to Crayons, New Foundations, Inc., and the Alpha Alpha Omicron Zeta Chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority also supplied coats and accessories. Collection sites included the Northeast YMCA, Paragon Home Health, Concilio, and HotWorx Northeast Philadelphia. In addition to providing financial resources to attendees, American Heritage Credit Union sponsored a hot beverage station with coffee, tea, and hot chocolate for attendees.

Smith noted that the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority focuses on community service, and they recruited 25 volunteers to help with this year’s Operation Bundle Up. They also ensured that Santa stopped by for a visit.

“The Zetas are always a fun energetic group, and they had folks out on the dance floor dancing with them and just having a good time,” she said. “Santa was running around engaging folks and making people laugh.”

The festive event highlighted the importance of bringing the community together and helping those in need during the holidays.

“Our tagline was ‘Operation Bundle Up: 10 Years of Service’ because we do see it as an obligation to bring the resources, bring the entertainment, bring the sense of community and celebration during the holidays,” Smith said.

“It was a fun, festive, jovial environment. Everybody really seemed to enjoy themselves, and there was just enough to go around for everyone.”