A Clarke Christmas Story

Anyone who has lived in Clarke County, Virginia for even a short time knows what a warm and giving place it is. Even so, Clarke County High School senior Stefanie Nicholson has raised the bar a notch this holiday season. Nicholson has collected nearly 200 coats, 124 pairs of gloves, 84 hats and 21 scarves for donation to needy people in our area.

“No one should have to suffer through one of the most beautiful times of the year!!!” Nicholson said at her Berryville home on Thursday. “It’s soooo cold out there!”

Stephanie Nicholson dedicated the 2010 holiday to gathering warm clothing for people in Clarke and Frederick County, Virginia - Photo Edward Leonard

Stefanie Nicholson’s coat drive is a testimony to the positive accomplishments that can occur when individuals of any age decide to make a difference in their community. At a time of the year when it is easy to lose sight of the the true meaning of the holidays, Nicholson’s efforts are a beacon to the community not unlike the star atop a Christmas tree.

Nicholson’s holiday energy and enthusiasm to help others was sparked by a simple idea that quickly turned into an avalanche of good will and marshaled into service by Good Samaritans from across the area. The young Berryville woman said that she never expected the level of response that she received.

“I set up a donation box at school and thought that if I got twenty coats I’d be doing well,” Nicholson said. “But pretty soon coats were coming from all over Clarke County. There were boxes set up at DG Cooley, Berryville Primary, Clarke County High School and Grace Episcopal Church.” Nicholson said that Powhatan School students donated a large number hats, mittens, and gloves that were purchased new for the coat drive.

As with most extraordinary accomplishments, a mother is often involved somewhere along the way and Stephanie Nicholson’s story is no exception. “My mom actually thought of the idea,” Nicholson said “I was trying to think of something I could do for my National Honor Society Project and she suggested a coat drive.”

Stephanie’s mother, Kim Nicholson, said that both she and her husband have always been involved in community service, so it wasn’t a surprise when Stephanie followed in the same family tradition. None-the-less Kim Nicholson was still gratified by her daughter’s efforts.

“It’s quite a wonderful experience to see the next generation step into the same role that we demonstrated as parents,” Kim Nicholson said. “I’m really proud of Stefanie.  She has always had a huge amount of empathy for others and its been a great learning experience for her. Everyone that she talked to was so supportive and encouraging.   We live in a great community.”

Whether due to this year’s exceptionally cold winter temperatures or simply an awareness that more people are struggling financially this year than in past years, Nicholson said that as the coat drive’s momentum began to grow both friends as well as strangers began to get involved. But little did she realize just how many other community members would so quickly follow her lead and join the effort.

“I was very lucky that the community seemed so excited about the coat drive and I had so much great help,” Nicholson said “My friend Krissi Raymond, a CCHS junior, suffered through a verrrrrry windy cold day to help me bring in the huge, half refrigerator boxes donated by the nice people at the refrigerator store in downtown Berryville. And the 600 coat drive posters sent home with elementary students were donated by the Bank of Clarke County with help from Mr. John Hudson.”

Nicholson, a member of Grace Episcopal Church, said that church secretary, Mrs. McFillen, contributed by setting up a donation basket in the church and  mentioning the effort in the church’s newsletter. Classmate Tim Hudson delivered coats to the Men’s Shelter in Winchester. “My family was also TREMENDOUSLY helpful,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson described a recent Saturday when her father was having breakfast at a Berryville restaurant and was describing the coat drive to a friend. A patron who overheard the discussion volunteered to deliver coats to a shelter in Winchester. Nicholson later learned from the man in the restaurant that five of the coats had been handed out immediately upon his arrival to needy people who had been loitering in the shelter’s parking area hoping for assistance.

Nicholson said that the clothing will benefit needy people both in Clarke and Frederick County including the Men’s Shelter in Winchester, the Laurel Center, FISH, and the Salvation Army

Nicholson said that she was overwhelmed by the level of community support that she received for her coat drive - Photo Edward Leonard

While the holidays are a busy time for most people, they are especially challenging for high school seniors who have the added pressure of studying for exams prior to winter break in hopes impressing colleges with excellent grades. The fact that Nicholson managed both school work and community work may perhaps be best described as a Christmas miracle of sorts.

”We’ve been working on the coat drive for about four weeks,” Nicholson said “We spent two weeks to organize, get boxes, wrap the boxes, make the posters, and things like that and then two weeks to collect the coats.”

It is often said that “the gift is in the giving” and if the warm smile that appears on Stefanie Nicholson’s face as she describes her coat drive experience is any indication, then the saying must be true.

”Everyone was incredibly gracious. The community definitely gave in every way that it could think of, from the massive donations of coats to  the piles of scarves and gloves.”

But Stefanie Nicholson said that she did receive one gift that was a little more tangible than simply the comfort of knowing that she had made a difference in hundreds of lives this year.

“While we were sorting and checking the coats, we found a small, smooth stone in the pocket of a little girl’s coat. It was adorable.”

Who would have believed that a coat could deliver so much warmth?


  1. Travis Goodwin says:

    Just when things seem pretty pessimistic on many fronts, something like this renews one’s faith in the goodness of humanity and the next generation. Kudos to you, Stefanie! Merry Christmas, everyone!

  2. April O'Leary says:

    I agree with Travis’ sentiments. Merry Christmas Stefanie you have certainly blessed many in the New Year!