While many shoppers prepare for the biggest retail spending day of the year, the Free Coat Exchangeencourages a different kind of shopping experience on Black Friday. The concept is simple: some people have a coat they don’t need, and some people need a coat they don’t have. On Friday, November 25, the two will come together to make a difference in many lives.

The Louisville Free Coat Exchange is the brainchild of Ted Loebenberg, with Brokers Unlimited IncProfessional Auctioneers. His initial involvement stemmed from a coat drive he and friend did in Rhode Island on Buy Nothing Day (a day to consume less and share more).

“The event was started as a protest against consumerism,” he says. “They had just built a new mall in Providence. We wanted to do something in antithesis to that.” They sat up racks and filled them with surplus winter coats. People took what they needed. It was a way to highlight problems but also provide something of real value to the community.

Loebenberg coordinated several years of successful coat drives in Rhode Island before bringing the initiative to Louisville in 2010. The first exchange was set up in the parking lot of The Green Building. The inaugural exchange collected and gave away more than 800 coats.

Over the years the Free Coat Exchange has grown. Last year they gave away 3,500 coats.

“This is a project of passion,” says Loebenberg, who describes himself as the “Hub of the Wheel.”

“We are not an organization or a non-profit,” Loebenberg continues. “We are just people in the community giving back. Every site does its own thing.”

However, the premise is the same at all locations. Each shopper can take up to two coats. There is no exchange of money. No need to show IDs or register. No questions asked.

“We have children to adult sizes. It’s all first-quality stuff,” says Loebenberg, who notes Burberry, Patagonia and L.L. Bean are some brands he’s seen exchanged.

“One year I’ll never forget. It was cold as hell, and a car pulled up and out comes this man who must have been 300 pounds and about 6’5”. He pulls out from his trunk two full-length mink and leather coats, hangs them up and leaves. These two women happen to be looking for coats, and they walked away with full-length mink and leather coats. They were so happy. The smiles on their faces went from Ashland to Paducah,” he says.

The Free Coat Exchange lasts from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. “At the end of the day, we continue the give to non-profits that continue the give,” says Loebenberg, who will donate leftover coats to non-profits such as The Center for Women and Familiesor Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

In addition, there are drop-off sites that will collect coats prior to the Coat Exchange. “We have enough locations in the city that serve the city,” Loebenberg says.

Loebenberg is grateful for the many volunteers who help. He recalls one year setting up at 8 a.m. and noticing two men waiting at a bus stop. They approached Loebenberg and asked if he remembered them. He did; they were from a nearby men’s shelter and had shopped for coats the prior year.

“This year,” they told him “We’re here to help you.”

However, he is always looking to expand sites and engage more volunteers.

“I’d like to get ten more sites, give away 500 more coats,” Loebenberg says. “Just imagine: Where would our community be if every adult who could donated one hour a month back?”

Coat Exchange Sites from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Friday, November 25:
The Green Building, 732 East Market Street
Save-A-Lot Food Store 4148 Taylor Blvd
Save-A-Lot Food Store, 2626 Portland Ave
Family Scholar House-Parkland Campus, 1309 Catalpa St.
Westport Road Church of Christ, 4500 Westport Road
The Benefits Firm, 620 3rd Street (next to Henry Clay)

Collection Only Sites, Drop off Coats Until November 22:
St. Lukes Episcopal Church, 1206 Maple Lane, Anchorage, Ky.
The Fashion Post, 2420 Lime Kiln Lane, Suite F
The Episcopal Church Home, 7504 Westport Road
Gilda’s Club 633 Baxter Avenue
Highland Coffee Company, 1140 Bardstown Road
New Earth Garden Center, 9806 Taylorsville Road
Westport Road Baptist Church 9705 Westport Road
St. Matthews Chamber, 3940 Grandview Avenue
Commonwealth Credit Union, 3704 Frankfort Avenue
Burdorf Interiors, 401 North English Station Road

A Cleveland native turned Louisville resident by way of Chicago, Melanie brings 20 years publishing experience to Louisville Distilled. After graduating from Indiana University Bloomington with degrees in English and Journalism, Melanie has worked as an editor on staffs at national magazines based in Chicago and Los Angeles. She moved to Louisville in 2004 where she launched a successful freelance editing and writing career. Her award-winning articles have appeared in Draft, Chef, The National Culinary Review, Pizza Today, Complete Woman, Louisville Magazine, Business First, Her Scene, Medical News and more. She lives in the East End with her husband, Sean, two children and dog. Passionate about the arts (and an adventurous foodie) Melanie loves eating her way through Louisville’s food scene and supporting the local arts and music scene.


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