Thousand Islands Playhouse warms up the community with a free outdoor locker room

Two shelves full of used coats await their new owners outside the Thousand Islands Theater. Photo submitted.

As temperatures drop and snow begins to pile up, staff at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, with the help of donations, are keeping the community warm for the second straight winter. The local Salvation Army thrift store closed in late 2020; It was then that Brett Christopher, General Artistic Director, and the Playhouse staff sought to fill the void created by the new lack of low-cost outdoor gear. Thus, the concept of their outdoor wardrobe was born.

How it all began

With non-essential services closing over the winter of 2020, the Thousand Islands Playhouse has been looking for ways to keep staff busy and employed; for the means to transform into an “essential” service; and for ways they could “just support in the community and be effective in doing so”.

“It’s really not that hard for us to accomplish that because we have someone there every day and we have a central location,” Christopher said in a phone interview on Sunday, January 16, 2022.

The Playhouse then issued a call on social media to the Gananoque community asking for donations of winter coats of all sizes, hats and mittens. The response they received in donations was overwhelming, Christopher recounted, and soon an entire room in the theater was filled with coats.

Playhouse staff worked hard to sort and wash each one, ensuring that everyone accessing the “outside closet” would have a fresh, clean coat to wear.

The coats were then hung on two racks located outside, in the lobby of the Théâtre des Mille-Îles at 185 South Street in Gananoque. And the theater has been using this model ever since—Anyone can come and browse the coats Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., no questions asked.

The rack will be in service while supplies last and as needs are met.

How are you

“It’s just a great, fun, and very modest way to impact the community,” Christopher said humbly. Their “very small impact” includes the distribution of around 650 coats over the past two years, which is no small feat.

In addition to their outdoor wardrobe, the Playhouse has also partnered with local social organizations to distribute some of their coats. “We were calling and saying ‘Hey, we got all these coats. We cleaned them all. Do you need them? So we were dropping 20 coats here, 20 there,'” Christopher explained.

This service is especially useful for those who may be without a vehicle and unable to access low-cost outdoor equipment in nearby locations, such as Kingston or Brockville.

Keep company with the ghosts of the theater during confinement

As the coat rack works outdoors, the Playhouse continues to look for opportunities to entice people to come to the theater.

Although there are no live shows at the moment due to current COVID-19 pandemic collection limits, Christopher said: “It’s hot, the lights are on, so I might as well well use it for something.” One of their ongoing initiatives is to host blood collection clinics through the Red Cross.

The most recent donor clinic was scheduled for today, Monday, January 17, 2022, but was postponed due to inclement weather.

Further information about Thousand Islands Playhouse clinics can be found on their Facebook page, and appointments to donate blood can be made on the Canadian Blood Services website – as highlighted by Playhouse staff , this is just one of many “little ways” to help the community during this time.

About Carl Schroeder

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