Athene Continues Tradition of Winter Wear Gifts to Students

Twenty-three years ago a company then called Central Life Assurance that was headquartered in downtown Des Moines decided it wanted to make sure some local school kids were properly bundled up for winter. McKinley Elementary School was targeted because of its proximity to the downtown area in an impoverished area.

A lot has changed since then. Central Life became Amerus, then Aviva and now Athene. But no matter what the company calls itself McKinley still calls it a good neighbor because the annual gift of winter coats and boots for every student has become a longstanding tradition.

And Tuesday it happened again.

In truth, Tuesday was just the culmination of a long process that began last February when Athene’s coordinator of the effort, Jessica Fine, first started laying out the spreadsheets and working with partners JC Penney and Shoe Carnival. During the first week of school, when winter was the furthest thing from most of our minds, Fine and Co. came to McKinley and measured every student to ensure proper fits before the bulk order was placed. So on Tuesday when the school gym became a huge fitting room everyone got the perfect size. Fine and her volunteer colleagues thought of everything, right down to inscribing names inside the coats and boots after they were tried on.

Athene’s partnership with McKinley has the longest history behind it but it is not the company’s only one. In fact, the big delivery there was the last in a series of four this year. Previously, the same early Christmas that happened today at McKinley had already happened at Cattell, Studebaker and Howe.

“Altogether we provided coats and boots to 1,450 DMPS kids this year,” Fine said between class fittings Tuesday morning. “JC Penney and Shoe Carnival help us out with discounts but Athene still spent about $80,000 on the program this year.”

Principal Lois Brass says that virtually the entire student body at McKinley is living at or below the poverty line so gestures like Athene’s generous gift of coats and boots are much appreciated by neighborhood families.

“Last week at conferences we had a big thank you banner on display that will be delivered to our friends at Athene,” she said. “And everyone was eager to sign it.”

As Tuesday’s weather steadily deteriorated Fine contrasted it with conditions at the other sites.

“Last week at one of the other schools it was about 80 degrees,” she said. But by midday Tuesday chilly drizzle, falling temps and a northerly breeze reminded that the winter gear will be necessary before long. Not that it was required Tuesday, when some of the kids wanted to wear their new stuff back to class and out for recess. You know how it is when you get new duds. You can’t wait to try them out. Thanks to community partners like Athene there are almost 1,500 DMPS students who are ready and waiting for winter, no matter what the rest of us think.

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