By Joel Phelps
For most children, finding the season’s hottest toys, electronics or fashion beneath the tree on Christmas morning is the highlight of the entire year. Many children, however, are not as fortunate — their parents unable to afford the latest trends, Christmas gifts sometime come from other sources such as Angel Tree.
A coat gives a kid warmth, and even used coats have plenty of life left in them. Each year, Ozark Cleaners is responsible for putting hundreds of newly cleaned jackets on children’s backs, whether they’re from a Coats for Kids drive or the Clark County Sheriff’s Office delivering donated clothes and toys to families who didn’t qualify for Angel Tree.
Brayden Sanders purchased Ozark Cleaners from his father in 2018 and continued a tradition that assures all local kids have a warm, clean coat. This year, Sanders said, Ozark has taken in “hundreds” of coats to be dry-cleaned and donated to a charitable cause.
First United Methodist Church and Sheriff Jason Watson are two of Ozark’s main customers when it comes to giving new life to an old coat. The church often participates in Coats for Kids, and Watson or his deputies will find the freshly cleaned jackets a new home. Watson said the magic Ozark puts into cleaning a coat makes them look brand new, especially when appropriately packaged. A 6-year-old, the sheriff said, wouldn’t realize the coat had ever been worn.
For Sanders, taking care of the coats is a labor of love. He and his staff spend several hours cleaning the many donated coats that are brought to their door, just to return them to the customer at no charge. “The warmth the coats provides is a warmth we can all share,” Sanders said. “The kids definitely need it, but we all share the warmth just getting to be a part of that process.”
The coats dropped off at Ozark go through the same process as clothes dropped off by paying customers: they’re checked into the computer system and assigned a bar code before getting a 24-hour pre-treatment soak. From there, they’ll end up in one of two industrial washing machines before being air dried. Depending on the care label, some coats are dry cleaned.
“Any person or organization that rolls through our window and wants a kids coat donated, I’m going to clean them,” Sanders said.
Being part of the process that keeps kids warm during the winter months — especially when they’re able to have a coat to play outside on Christmas — is a heartwarming experience. Sanders recounted a pair of siblings who paid Ozark’s Hot Springs location a visit after getting their coats under the tree. It had been two months since their coats had been dropped off for cleaning, and the children decided to show some appreciation to the cleaners.
“They rode their bikes to our cleaners, wearing the coats we had got them,” he said. “They wrote us a little card with their signatures. It put tears in our eyes one Saturday afternoon, just seeing those kids so joyous right after the turn of the year. It was cold outside, and they were out riding their bikes and as happy as could be. It might have been something they wouldn’t have the option to do” were it not for coat donations.
“You can’t put a price on that.”