Lenoir City teen starts coat drive

Austin Owens, right, watches as Don Lee donates a few coats to the coat drive.

A Lenoir City teen has partnered with One Warm Coat to create a coat drive for Loudon County families who may find themselves in need.

Austin Owens, 15, is home-schooled through Tennessee Connections Academy, a public homeschooling system. Part of his curriculum includes a community service project.

Owens, a former soccer player for North Middle School and American Youth Soccer Organization, intended on fulfilling the 20-hour requirement by refereeing for AYSO soccer games. Because of coronavirus, he had to find a new way to serve.

A trip to New York when Owens was younger influenced his decision when looking for a new project.

“We went to New York a few years ago, and he had seen someone who was homeless and that was the first time he had seen a homeless person up close and in person in the subway. He felt bad,” Jamie Owens, Austin’s mother, said. “He was about 10 or 11, and it was right before Christmas, and he didn’t have a coat, and he was just looking. Around here, you don’t see that as you do up there. It’s a lot different.”

Owens thought a coat drive would be a good way to help families since “2020’s been a rough year,” he said.

He found One Warm Coat, an organization that helps individuals and companies start coat drives, and began his first community service journey. The experience may have inspired him to pursue more community service projects in the future, he said.

“We’re proud of him — me, his father and his stepmother,” Jamie said. “We’re extremely proud. He has become a very well-rounded young man.”

Owens hopes to collect “as many coats as possible,” but he pointed to a goal of possibly 100.

Gently used coats in all sizes for infants to adults can be dropped off 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday at Fort Loudoun Terminal Co. Inc., 5480 Industrial Park Drive, Lenoir City, until Nov. 30. Porch pickup is also available.

“If they call 865-270-9130, we can schedule a porch pickup for people,” Jamie said. “Because of COVID, we know the elderly and stuff can’t really get out. But if they still want to donate, they can still leave it on their porch, and we can come pick it up.”

Donated coats go to families in Loudon County who sign up. To receive a coat, call 865-270-9310 to be added to a list with coat sizes noted. Names will not be released.

For those who wish to contribute but don’t have coats, monetary donations can be given at https://onewarmcoat.salsalabs.org/youthschoolcoatdriveregistration/p/nooneshouldbecold/. Monetary donations can be made in person at Fort Loudoun Terminal, and Jamie will provide a receipt.

As of Monday, Owens has received $30 for his $250 goal.

“It feels pretty good to know that I’m helping people with the coats. I’m glad that I can help,” he said.