Inside the Gates: Armed Services YMCA helps Alaska children bundle up for winter

Some of the donated clothing at JBER's Dallas Community Center
Some of the donated clothing at JBER's Dallas Community Center(Dave Leval)
Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 6:45 AM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2021 at 10:04 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s Dallas Community Center resembled a clothing store with all the winter coats, hats, boots, gloves and a lot more stored there.

They did not stay there long. They were passed out to military families across Alaska who could not afford them.

“We know that’s a financial burden that can affect some of our families right at the start of school,” said Sarah Riffer, the executive director of the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska, and the person who organized the “Winter Gear Up” program. “We get the kids the boots, we get the kids the parkas. Nobody’s inside because they can’t be warm. Nobody’s sitting in class because they don’t have the snow bibs. We want all the kids to experience Alaska to the fullest extent, and winter is a big part of that.”

The “Winter Gear Up” program helps provide school-age children with what they need to stay warm during the winter months. This year, families at JBER received the first round of donations, then Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright on Monday. The program also held trunk shows for military families at Ft. Greely, Juneau, Kodiak, Sitka, and Valdez earlier this month.

“I had a high schooler who was 15 years old tell me she wanted to try cross-country skiing while they were stationed here,” Riffer said. “But her parents can’t afford the boots. I thought in my head ‘that’s easy, we can afford boots.’”

It would seem a big challenge for most people to organize a relief effort like this. But not for Riffer.

“At the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska, we don’t really have challenges, we just solve problems,” Riffer said.

She and others did that as they made sure children stationed in Alaska this winter have warm supplies as they’ve done in previous years.

Editor’s note: The story was updated to show when supplies were handed out.

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