As temperatures drop, the need for winter clothing can become financially taxing for international students at Queen’s. Fortunately, the Queen’s Winter Coat Exchange provides a free and anonymous resource for students and Kingston community members.
The exchange is situated at the back of JDUC 238, also know as the Room of Requirement. The area sports two full coat racks and shelves filled with hats, scarves, mittens and winter boots.
Heather Poechman, MA ‘18, started the exchange in 2016. At the time she was in her fourth year of her undergraduate degree.
“I wanted to find a way to make adjustment to Canadian climate a little easier for international students,” she said.
Starting with a little under 20 coats upon opening in 2016, the exchange now maintains a steady inventory of over 40 and a large collection of other winter gear. Students can access the room any time between 8 a.m. and midnight and are invited to simply walk in and take whatever they need, free of charge.
Following a year abroad in Morocco and experiences working as a Peer Advisor with the Queen’s University International Centre, Poechman realized the Canadian climate has become a perceived barrier to potential international students.
“[Students in Morocco] would say ‘I’d love to go to Canada but it’s so cold,’ and I started thinking about people coming from warmer climates,” she said. “Having them spend a couple hundred dollars on a coat they’re only going to wear once seems excessive.”
When the Exchange was first created in 2016, Poechman said it was difficult to get donations and make students aware of the resource itself.
But after stories about the coat exchange were published in Global News and The Kingston Whig-Standard, Poechman said a lot of people contacted her hoping to donate. Social media has connected Queen’s Winter Coat Exchange to groups such as Dawn House, a women’s shelter in Kingston and local retailer Cloth and Socks Kingston. According to Poechman, the latter has pledged to donate 100 pairs of socks to the Exchange.
Within the Queen’s community, student donations have played a significant role in restocking the shelves.
“Some people come in while I’m not there and leave coats while others take them,” she said. “I had a student who, with their mother over the Christmas break, knitted scarves and hats to add to the room.”
For Poechman, feedback from those accessing the exchange has been positive.
“I’ve had people leave me little notes in the room saying how much they appreciate the resource and even walked in while people were trying on the coats,” she said. “We talked and they told me about how this resource has really helped their student life at Queen’s.”
With Poechman scheduled to finish her Master’s in August, she will have to pass the program off to a new leader for the first time.
“I’m hoping whoever takes on this room next will be able to find it really easy,” she said. She hopes to curate a list of contacts to ensure that donations are continuous throughout the year before the completion of her Master’s degree.
Regardless of her presence in the project, Poechman hopes to see continued support for the Queen’s Winter Coat Exchange.
“I think it will be a project that will hopefully continue to keep running in the future. It’s been really great to have this kind of support from the Queen’s and Kingston community.”
For Queen’s and Kingston community members looking to donate to the Queen’s Winter Coat Exchange, donations are welcome to the room itself. Heather Poechman can be contacted through email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about what donations are currently being sought.
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