EWMC Coat Drive Warms Kids and Hearts in St. Louis


January 2, 2014


St. Louis Electrical Workers Minority Caucus President Curtis Tunstall (far right) leads yearly efforts to collect coats for impoverished children.

St. Louis Local 1 electricians Sylvester Taylor andLeon Arties were ready for the cold weather, adhering to the advice of all workers who brave the elements on their jobs: “You can always put on more clothes than you need and take off what you don’t.”

Then a young boy walked by without a coat. Taylor, a former Missouri state representative, and Arties—both members of the St. Louis chapter of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus—got in touch with the youth’s family and bought him a coat.

Eight years later, that modest act of mercy has developed into a large-scale program, supported by St. Louis Locals 11439 and 1455  that begins each October and peaks in December when the EWMC donates 300--400 coats to St. Louis children, many of them homeless.

In the past 10 years, the chapter has donated more than 4,000 coats to children living in poverty.

“The coat drive lets everyone know that IBEW is here not just for ourselves, but for our community,” says Curtis Tunstall, president of the St. Louis chapter of EWMC and a 39-year member of Local 1439 who works as a power meter man for the local utility company.

Originally, coats were collected for donation to institutions serving children, says EWMC chapter secretary Vette Goods, a Local 1 electrician. “But the need has grown, with an ever-expanding population of homeless children,” says Goods.  EWMC now includes public schools as recipients for coats.

The generosity is contagious. Goods, a member of the St. Louis Central Labor Council and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists has brought the coat drive into both venues.

A retired member of the United Food and Commercial Workers answered Goods’ request for help initiating a similar effort at a public school that was previously unserved.  And members of the labor council are bringing coats to their next meeting.

“We’re not collecting coats for glory,” says Tunstall. But the favorable publicity in the St. Louis Labor Tribune and the St. Louis American helps the community recognize IBEW and the EWMC as good neighbors.

In his column in the Nov.-Dec. issue of The 1439 Times, Business Manager and Fifth District IEC member Mike Walter recalled Tunstall’s frequent call for membership involvement and engagement: “It is not about color, it is about being a minority. We as organized labor have become a minority. We must unite in solidarity,” says Tunstall.

All EWMC chapters sponsor yearly community service events. The chapter’s largesse isn’t limited to coats alone. Tunstall has accompanied Local 1 electricians doing minor repair work and installing receptacles in boy’s and girl’s clubs and cleaning up trees and branches after storms.

“We get paid to keep the lights on as part of our jobs,” says Tunstall. “But the coat drive and our other service activities are things we do as neighbors.”

“All IBEW members should be grateful for the efforts of the St. Louis chapter of the EWMC to build goodwill and respect by truly serving the needs of our community year in and year out,” says Walter.