Alexandria, VA – It wouldn’t be the holiday season in Alexandria without Willie Bailey’s annual coat drive. By the end of the year, Bailey and his team of volunteers from the Alexandria Police Department, Fire Department, and Sheriff’s Office have distributed more than 4,000 winter coats to city youth.
“It’s simple to me,” Bailey told The Zebra. “I didn’t receive a brand new code until I was in probably junior high school, really. So, to be able to be a part of a program now that helps thousands of kids every year is the least I can do. I’m paying it forward.”
Bailey, a Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Deputy Fire Chief and former Alexandria City Councilman, gave away thousands of coats at Patrick Henry Recreation Center and the Departmental Progressive Club on Saturday, Nov. 9. Bailey spends up to $60,000 on the coats, which he buys heavily discounted from Operation Warm, the largest nonprofit coat distributor in the country. In August, Bailey and a team of volunteers also gave out 3,000 brand-new backpacks full of school supplies.
“I personally spend up to $8,000 myself – and that’s just for the coats,” Bailey said. “I was one of those kids. There were six of us, and growing up here in the 60s and 70s, this is how my parents got things for us – by going around to different events like this. We grew up in southern Virginia, grew up on a farm, with an outhouse and no running water, coming to the city and we got our start here. I think it’s up to us to make sure those kids born in poverty are able to compete with the kids who are born with silver spoons in their mouths.”
Former Alexandria City Attorney Jim Banks has volunteered for the coat drive for the last 10 years.
“It’s important work and it’s needed,” Banks said. “We don’t see this as a hand-out. This is more of a hand-up, and that’s a real difference, and folks want to help themselves and that’s why we’re here.”
Merrick Malone, president of the Departmental Progressive Club, said that it was the first time the organization hosted the event, and hopes to do it in the years ahead.
“Part of that being around for 92 years is being engaged very much in the community. Well, I hope that we will be doing it again next year, that it’s going to be part of the holiday season to have this coat drive here.”