Greg Vine
News Correspondent

GARDNER Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis and some his staff dropped by Gardner’s Community Action Center on Wednesday morning to drop off several rather heavy bags full of winter coats, just in time for the onset of the New England winter.

CAC Executive Director Julie Meehan said the organization will provide coats to 215 Gardner families.

“Many people were coming in early to ask about the coats,” said Meehan.

“We really rely on this drive.”

In recent months, Meehan said, “We’ve had 12 hundred people come through our doors.

Four-hundred were looking for coats, winter clothing, heating assistance.

That’s about the same as last year, but they started coming in earlier.”

The Sheriff’s Coat Drive, was initiated by Evangelidis’ predecessor but, said Director of External Affairs Kimberly Roy, on a much smaller scale.

“They might have helped out one community a year,” she said.

“Sheriff Evangelidis greatly expanded the effort and it’s been a countywide effort for six years now.”

In addition to the sheriff’s stop in Gardner, Evangelidis and his volunteers were making stops Wednesday in Cleghorn and at Our Father’s House in Fitchburg.

The sheriff and his crew also stopped at the Spanish American Center in Leominster, and at three locations in Southbridge on Wednesday.

“There are a number of areas throughout the county that really need the kind of help were delivering today,” said Nic Barbara, Evangelidis’ director of external programs.

“There are some spots in the north county that need help, but Southbridge is an area that’s really hurting.”

“It’s hard to gauge in some places,” Meehan said.

“There are some people in Westminster, for example, that could use some help or may ask for help, but they’re embarrassed.

The hardest part is sometimes getting past the stigma.”

The deadline for contributing coats to the drive is usually at the end of November, just before Thanksgiving.

“People certainly are more than welcome to drop of coats at any time,” said Ellen Savickas, a board member of the Reserve Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

“If they come in after the deadline we simply deliver them next year.”

The Sheriff’s Coat Drive is a collaborative effort between the Sheriff’s Office of Community Corrections, Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, the Worcester County Reserve Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the Gardner Museum, RCAP Solutions of Gardner, Royco Distributors of Gardner, Warmer Winters of Leominster, Independent Cleaner of Fitchburg, and a long list of other local businesses and community partners.

“We can’t thank Sheriff Evangelidis and his team enough for coming in today to deliver hundreds of winter coats for the individuals who rely each day on our center,” said Meehan.

“Receiving these badly needed warm jackets helps us provide an invaluable service to those less fortunate in our community, especially during the cold winter months.”

Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke also was on hand to thank Evangelidis for his yearly effort to assist the less fortunate around Worcester County and in Gardner in particular.