LEXINGTON -- As hip-hop artist Devine Carama was checking out of Macy's department store in Lexington on Black Friday with 30 coats that he will donate to children in need this Christmas, he said two families approached him and said "it was put upon their hearts" to help out.
One family purchased two coats and another family purchased a total of seven coats, Carama said. Carama, whose legal name is Richard Spaulding, said the reaction is typical when people hear about his initiative "A Coat to Keep the Cold Away" youth coat drive, which is part of his organization called Believing in Forever Inc.
"We just have so many community people that see what we are doing and have reached out," said Carama. "It's kind of humbling." He said Champs entertainment complex and Macy's have been among this year's donors.
This is the sixth year of Carama's coat drive for children pre-school age through eighth grade in Central and Eastern Kentucky. He also collects some adult coats for the families of migrant children attending Head Start.
So far, he said he has accumulated about 1,300 of the 3,015 new coats that must be purchased in the next 21/2 weeks. He said an average coat costs about $25.
Carama said he has given away more than 8,500 new coats in the last five years.
He said 90% of the donations are made through public school family resource centers and Community Action Centers that provide a list of genders and sizes. The other 10% of donations are made following individual requests from families. Carama said that might include grandparents who are raising the children of incarcerated parents or single parent families. Carama said families include people who have been laid off, and this year, former miners from Blackjewel Coal Company in Cumberland who are out of work.
In 2017, Carama performed a marathon outdoor concert in Lexington and in 2018, he walked from Lexington to Morehead to raise money for the coat drive.
One unique aspect about the coat drive is that it only accepts new coats.
"We not only want to provide struggling families with a little helping hand during the holiday season, but we also want to build confidence and inspire," said Carama. "A lot of the youth we serve don't receive brand new items often so we feel giving them something brand new will inspire them to pay good deeds forward one day when they are in a position to help others."
Lexington attorney Matt Boyd said he decided to become a donor because "I didn't have a bunch of new stuff when I was little."
"Having a new coat not only keeps you warm, it kind of builds self-esteem," he said.
Jasiah Clay, the president of the student council at E.J. Hayes Middle School, said he donated because, "I care about other kids that need things that we have and they don't have."
Carama said his organization begins accepting requests in October, and collects coats in November and early December so they can be delivered by the second week of December.
Donations can be made via Cash App at $BelievinginForever, the Venmo app at BelievinginForever or texted to PayPal at (859) 303-2637. Checks can be written to Believing In Forever Inc., and mailed to 501 West 6th Street, Suite 250, Lexington, KY, 40508.
"We need all donations by December 13th to give us enough time to purchase remaining coats, organize them, and deliver before students head home for Christmas break," Carama said.
Christian Price, a Lexington native who now lives in Cleveland, Ohio, said she donated a total of $350 this year to the drive.
"I believe in the cause and all that Devine is trying to do to support our community," Price said.