Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 8, 2013

Hundreds of pieces coming in for coat drive

Tim Preston
CNHI News Service

ASHLAND — People sometimes describe a nice person as one who would give someone the coat off their own back.

Friends of the late Joe Stevens remember the time he did that very thing, parting with a jacket which had kept his own late father warm only days before, when he was trying to help a homeless man who was a patient at King’s Daughters Medical Center.

“That’s where this coat drive came from. He literally gave the coat off his back,” said emergency room nurse Randi Wheeler, pausing from her work alongside patient representative Rita Burgess in a room where hundreds of winter coats and jackets hang from the ceiling and lay in clean piles everywhere you look.

“He did all kinds of things like that,” Burgess added, explaining she and Wheeler met Stevens, who was also an emergency department nurse, early in their careers.

“We both worked with him straight out of school,” she said. “He was just so kind hearted. All he wanted to do was take care of his patients.”

“... and love his parents,” the other added.

When Stevens was being treated for a rapid-onset case of melanoma, Burgess and Wheeler said he always parted company with them by asking, “Make sure my mom’s OK.”

Stevens, who was from the Ironton area, died as a result of his melanoma when he was 32 years old, his friends said, although his legacy for caring lives on within each of them and others who draw inspiration from his story.

“Joe’s kindness taught lessons,” Burgess said, sharing the story of an environmental services employee at KDMC who was holding onto a UK-logo jacket which had been recently worn by his own father just before he passed away. When he was reminded of Stevens giving his late dad’s coat to a homeless patient, the employee contributed his dad’s favorite blue-and-white outerwear to the cause.

With the help of Stevens’ mom, Leona, and sisters, Hope and Pam, the first Joe Stevens Memorial Coat Drive collected about 500 pieces of apparel to share with others in the community. Again with the assistance of family and the entire network of KDMC employees, the effort has generated an estimated 2,000 coats. The number is estimated because Wheeler and Burgess say they have no way of knowing exactly how many coats they have.

“They are everywhere. Not only are they hanging, they are piled in piles on piles. They came from every department. It was a real KDMC team effort from everyone,” Burgess said, agreeing with Wheeler that people gave extremely nice coats and jackets, including many in perfect shape, smelling fresh and clean, often with school logos or made of materials such as leather.

“Some nice leather, too,” Burgess said, almost to herself before comparing notes about supporters who’ve jokingly volunteered to take things that caught their eye.

“These are for anyone who needs a coat,” Burgess said, explaining a team of volunteers will join forces to hand the coats out as part of Saturday’s morning’s services at Church Without Walls, at Central Park near the basketball court closest to Crabbe Elementary.

“We have zipped every coat. We have washed and cleaned,” Wheeler said, noting several other community agencies will also help distribute the hospital’s coat collection in honor of James Stevens. The owner of Ashland’s Go Green dry cleaners also stepped up and offered to clean coats, Wheeler and Burgess said, reminding each other a few had been dropped off at the local business and need to be picked up for Saturday’s distribution.

Burgess and Wheeler said the Joe Stevens Memorial Coat Drive also welcomes coat contributions from individuals and agencies not associated with the hospital. For more information or to make arrangements, call (606) 408-9297.


reached at tpreston@