Warm wishes: A local teen celebrates his birthday with coats—lots of coats

Six years ago, 16-year-old Ashton Ryan started a coat drive for those in need. To date, he’s given out more than 7,000 coats.  Photo: Cramer Photo Six years ago, 16-year-old Ashton Ryan started a coat drive for those in need. To date, he’s given out more than 7,000 coats. Photo: Cramer Photo

Most teenagers have pretty predictable birthday wish lists … video games, iTunes cards, maybe money to use toward buying a car. Charlottesville’s Ashton Ryan is different. He wants coats. Lots and lots of coats. It all started six years ago, just before his 12th birthday.

“I saw a kid in school without a coat and I wanted to give him mine,” Ashton says. “When my mom picked me up from school that day, I told her I wanted to have a huge birthday party and invite the whole town, but everyone had to donate a coat as my present.”

Each year since, Ashton and his mom, Kim, have organized Ashton’s Wish. He celebrates his November 11 birthday by collecting and then distributing donated jackets.

“We sort them all by size, and then we make sure they’re clean and the zippers work, and then we give them away” to those in need. Recipients have come from schools, churches, Region Ten, Jefferson Area Children’s Health Improvement Program and other local organizations. To date, he’s distributed more than 7,000 coats to those who need one.

He’s a kid with a big heart—one that has been through a lot. When Ashton was a baby, he was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease—an illness that can cause long-term damage to the heart. Fortunately, doctors caught it early.

Ashton’s donations extend beyond Charlottesville; he’s given coats to those in need in Harrisonburg, Lexington and Richmond, too. He wants to expand his program across Virginia and then nationwide, ultimately to start a nonprofit organization to continue the mission. But first, there’s college and studying computers—right after his next coat drive.

“I guess I just hope that other kids will hear about it and maybe they’ll want to do it too,” Ashton says.

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