Six years ago, Deanna Taylor (pictured, center) organized Utah’s first annual Community Coat Exchange. The coat exchange takes place every year on the day after Thanksgiving (also referred to as Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day) at Library Plaza from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Coats are being collected now at four drop-off points, and on the day of the event (Friday, Nov. 26) people will be able to donate coats, exchange a coat or take a coat—no questions asked.
How did the coat exchange first come about?
The coat exchange was inspired by a colleague of mine in Rhode Island who has been doing this for 14 years. He calls his the Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange. I thought, “Wow, what a great idea. We’re going to do this in Salt Lake." The idea is for people to come exchange a coat, also promoting the concept of reducing, reusing and recycling. And really asking people to pause and think before they go out and buy new things. What can you do as an alternative gift guide idea? At our event we also give out flyers about alternative gift ideas. So you come either exchange a coat or you come donate coats or you can come get coats.
How has it evolved over the years?
Six years ago we did our first one and collected about 300 coats. We did that one in Sugar House. It was pretty small then, but over the years it’s grown. A couple of years ago we gave out 600 coats. Last year we didn’t collect as many coats, but more people came out to get them. I think it was a sign of the economy where people weren’t giving as much stuff away, and yet there was more of a need. And we’ve added drop-off centers over the years. People really seem to like the idea and want to participate. We usually start collecting coats around Oct. 1 and we collect them up through the day. You can drop off a coat at a donation center beforehand or you can bring them to the event. We have people show up with armloads of coats. We hold it at Library Plaza because it’s a big community place. We get a lot of families.
How is this different from other Black Friday/Buy Nothing Day activities?
Before on Buy Nothing Day, I would always go out with a huge group of people to the malls and sing what they call anti-consumerism carols that are to the tune of traditional Christmas carols but had messages of the pitfalls of consumerism. And after a while of doing that every year, I thought, “I don’t know if this is actually making a difference.” People are in such a hurry to go buy their stuff that they didn’t really stop to listen to us or, when they did, they thought we were singing real Christmas carols, and when they realized what we were really singing they would just hurry on their way. And we would find a lot of our leaflets on the ground and things. I really struggled with, “What difference am I making?” It’s hard to get to people in the moment with your message, especially on that day when they’re so ingrained with buying their Christmas presents on that day. While it’s fun to do direct action like that, it wasn’t satisfying because I wasn’t sure if I was reaching anybody. I know that I’ve reached people on a variety of fronts through [the coat exchange].
Also, we call it the community coat exchange. I don’t necessarily attach Buy Nothing Day to it. Some of our partners want to remain neutral on the BND concept; they want to make sure that they’re reaching out to everybody and they’re not turning anybody off. So it’s kind of a strategy. We do it on BND on purpose, yet we’re really trying to focus on this is a community event. Please, as you’re cleaning out your closets, as you’re going to shopping malls, as you’re going to patronize places today, really give pause and think about what you’re doing, and see if you can give consideration to getting involved in a community project instead.
What are your hopes for this year’s coat exchange?
I hope that we get a lot of donations. I was a little disappointed last year that our donations were less than the need. It’s kind of sad for people to come and there’s not anything for them, yet they have this need. We also direct people to where they can find things, resources. My biggest hope is that more people will stop to think about their spending habits and the whole idea of consumerism and how it dominates our society. And really rethink how they money and use and buy material things: Do I really need to spend money, or is there something here in my own household that I still need to use before I go out and buy that new thing? Is there a way I can bring my family together without tons of gifts that are bought new? Are there other things that are just as meaningful? It’s trying to make this paradigm shift from “buy buy buy” to what’s really important in the world.
For more information about the Community Coat exchange, visit CoatExchange.wordpress.com/about. Drop-off centers are located at: Free Speech Zone (411 S. 800 East), City Academy (555 E. 200 South), The Oakley School (251 W. Weber Canyon Road, Oakley) and Brighton Resort (12601 E. Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, Brighton).