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Inspiring Woman on a Mission: Linda Keys

Sometimes a higher power puts you exactly where you need to be to make a difference.

That’s what happened to Linda Keys back in 2015 in Marks, Mississippi. Linda left her home state right after high school, moving north to Chicago. She had a successful 30-year career and was looking forward to retirement back in Mississippi, where she could take care of her mother.

One chilly day in November, Mom wanted McDonald’s for breakfast. So Linda bundled up, got in her car and started driving.

The trip took her past a bus stop, where she saw something startling – five young boys, waiting for the bus in 30-degree weather, all of them without coats. Linda pulled over and asked them why they weren’t wearing their coats. Turns out, it was because they didn’t have any.  

She convinced the kids to stay in her car and keep warm until their bus arrived. Then, after they left, she detoured to Wal-Mart guessed the boys’ sizes, bought some coats and brought them to the bus stop the next day.

You would have thought it was Christmas, she said as their faces lit up at her generosity.

On that day, because of a higher power that put her in the right place at the right time, five children got coats. And Linda Keys got a mission. Because how many other children, she wondered, were out there in the cold without proper winterwear?

Linda founded Mississippi Coats4Kidz, a nonprofit that provides youngsters from low-income families with new coats, hats and gloves each winter. Why new coats? Well, Linda argues, when you get a used coat you need to have it cleaned, which usually means dry cleaning, and by the time you do that you ’ve spent money that could have been used to buy another new coat.

Plus, she adds, many of the children MC4K serves have never had a new coat. “It makes them feel special,” she says. “It really helps with their self-esteem.”

Recently, the nonprofit distributed coats to third-graders at an elementary school. The kids wrote thank you notes, but it was a letter from their teacher that shows the impact Mississippi Coats4Kidz has.

“Thank you so much for the coats, hats and gloves the children in my room received!” the teacher wrote. “They were so excited that they didn’t take them off all day at school. They were so proud – they wanted everyone to see them.”

In 2015, MC4K distributed about 50 coats in a couple of counties. Last year, it served more than 5,000 kids in 17 counties.

Part of that is due to strong partnerships that Linda has been able to cultivate in the short time her nonprofit has been operating. From banks to restaurants to the University of Mississippi Foundation, she had attracted individuals, organizations and businesses that are helping her increase her reach. Some sponsor boxes where donors can drop off new coats, hats or gloves. Others donate money. Still more help with distribution.

Linda says she won’t stop until MC4K can serve children in all of Mississippi’s 82 counties.

That will be a lot of coats – estimates are that there are more than a quarter million children in the state living in poverty. Many probably have outgrown their coat – or like the boys at the bus stop – don’t have one to begin with.

But Keys has faith that MC4K can help every one.

“I know God put me there for a reason that day,” she said. “My personal mission is to provide coats for children every winter. We can do this.”

You can learn more about Mississippi Coats4Kidz here.

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