‘I feel blessed’: Hundreds in need receive cold-weather gear through local clothing drive

20th Mister Rogers Neighborhood Sweater Drive collects more than 20,000 cold-weather items

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Volunteers gave away thousands of sweaters, jackets, blankets, long-sleeved shirts, even socks and shoes, on Wednesday to keep people warm during the winter at the annual Mister Rogers Neighborhood Sweater Drive.

For one local veteran, the event was a game-changer.

Gregory Howard, a Vietnam War veteran, served in the Marine Corps and Navy for nearly 15 years combined, but he’s fallen on hard times and has been experiencing homelessness for two months.

Outside the Clara White Mission where Howard has been staying, the sweater drive gave out warm clothes on Wednesday.

“I got a sweater, a suede jacket -- a new jacket,” Howard said.

He said this opportunity is something he desperately needed as he gets back on his feet, and he said he’s compelled now to pay it forward.

“Too much. I’m going to end up giving some of this away,” Howard said. “I am blessed. I feel blessed.”

Michelle Maule with the Clara White Mission said the mission honors the work its founder Dr. Eartha M.M. White envisioned as it serves between 250 and 300 people every day during the week.

“We know that we are fulfilling her promise to the community that we are here for you and we are going to take care of you. We are going to make sure that you do not feel forgotten,” Maule said. “We know that this is our duty to give back. When we see the people show up and we see the need being met, we know that we are continuing the legacy of Eartha White.”

Clara White Mission was not the only stop for the sweater drive. A similar giveaway happened two and a half miles away at the City Rescue Mission on McDuff Avenue.

The City Rescue Mission says it serves up to 300 people every night in the city, and the clothing drive met a need for many people.

“It has been a tough year with inflation, and all of the changes going on. We serve those who are the most in need here in Jacksonville,” said Paul Stasi,

City Rescue Mission Executive Director. “Sometimes people have to make a decision: should I buy food, or can I make it on my little jacket? Just to be able to have these nice sweaters, the community has been so gracious, and so generous.”

This was the 20th year of the Mister Rogers Neighborhood Sweater Drive. A handful of charities and companies collected thousands of warm clothing items over the last month to give away.

“We could all find ourselves in this position. And we love to be able to depend on the generosity of our neighbors,” said David McGowan, president and CEO of WJCT Public Media.

Organizers said last year, they gave away more than 20,000 cold-weather items. They believe they can exceed that number this year.

“It just shows how our community comes together to provide for each other. It shows how compassionate we really are in Jacksonville,” said Kawanza Humphrey with VyStar Credit Union.

Along with WJCT and VyStar, Tom Bush Family of Dealerships and the Suddath moving company took part in the clothing distributions. In addition to clothing, people at both locations were able to get meals.

Suddath released a statement after the event:

“Suddath is proud to carry on Mr. Rogers’ legacy with helping to make it a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Suddath has been in business for 100+ years, and it’s very important for us to continue to give back to our community.”

Not all of the clothing items collected will be given away Wednesday. All of the clothes will be passed out throughout the next several months.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.