Susan Perry found out at a very young age how to do without.
Without a winter coat or winter gloves. Without a bed to sleep in. Without a home. Perry wasn’t even 10 years old when she and one of her older sisters, Midgie, and their mother, Nora Lee, were homeless and living out of the family car.
“My mom had had been very ill and was basically unable to support us,” Perry said. “We lived at relatives’ homes and we were in and out of living out of the car. We had food and shelter. I was less than 10 years old. It’s part of my everyday life of who I am.”
|Kristy Lewandowski, Heather Duval-Foote, and Susan Perry
organize the coat donations at Owens Community College.
(Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
Perry, who lives in Woodville, is an instructor in Owens Community College’s sonography department. She now has kids of her own and a well-paying job, but the lessons she learned as a young girl never left her.
Five years ago, Perry made up her mind – she was going to help those who weren’t as fortunate as she by collecting and giving away winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves.
“It happened about five years ago, when I turned 50,” Perry said. “My birthday is Dec. 1. My family asked me what I wanted and I said, ‘I think I’ll do something for somebody else.’ It was time for me to make a difference for someone else. It’s always been my approach to life.
“I was the recipient of a coat years ago, when I was little girl. Part of that time we were homeless. We lived in my mom’s car, so I’ve been on receiving end of someone’s generosity. It was time to start giving back. My family always tries to make a difference and do what we can to help others. On my 50th birthday I said, ‘I’m going to try to collect 50 coats. It’s winter.’ That’s really how it started.”
Perry’s sonography students and Owens faculty recently collected hundreds of various winter clothing items. On Dec. 3, they took them to downtown Toledo and, out of a trailer donated by Toledo Harley-Davidson, gave away everything they had at the corner of Michigan and Adams streets. They planned to do the same thing Dec. 10.
“We ran out of everything,” Perry said. “We took down almost 600 total items and we ran out of all of the coats. I was surprised, but I was not surprised. Normally we have had enough coats to have a second distribution. Channel 13 came to (Owens’) campus this morning (Dec. 4) and helped us put out a plea for additional items to distribute. We gave them all away.”
What Perry began five years ago is now known at Owens as “Susie’s Coats,” a community outreach initiative.
“It’s for anyone who has a need for a warm coat,” Perry said. “We also had some blankets this year to give away. Every year we run out of extra-large coats for men and women. I purchased some of those, and Wal-Mart was nice and gave us a discount on them.” Perry’s initiative has caught on with friends, family and co-workers. Her daughter, Natalie, 29, helped collect and distribute clothing Dec. 3.
“I knew there was an area in downtown Toledo where agencies were distributing non-perishable items,” Perry said. “The first couple years, Natalie took a tarp downtown and laid the items out on a tarp and they would run out very quickly. I knew there was a significant need. I now have involved the students in my (sonography) program. They’re soliciting their families and friends for coats. We wouldn’t have the numbers we have – the number of things we have to give away – if we didn’t have the help from the students.”
Perry said she would continue to collect and distribute items for the needy after Dec. 10.
“As long as I have coats, I’m going to downtown Toledo to pass them out,” she said. “There is such a need out there. You get so busy in your life, you can find a niche in your own community to give help to others. It makes a profound difference in their life and your own.”
For more information about the “Susie’s Coats” community outreach initiative or to donate, call 567-661-7560 or 1-800-GO-OWENS, ext. 7560.