It felt like Christmas last week for some Sandy survivors when two young women from the Midwest traveled to one of the hardest hit areas to hand out coats at a jam-packed donation center. The coats were brand new – tags still attached – and resembled warm North Face fleeces, much sought-after garb as temperatures dropped in the Northeast.
Kristee Novak and Ashley Smith aim to spread that warmth through their company, The Ray of Life. For every coat purchased, one is donated to a person in need and it’s with this giving spirit that the two sisters from Elkhart, Indiana hope to offer more than just physical warmth this holiday season.
“The idea and what we do as a company is we want to be able to bridge the gap in the community – bridge the gap so that everybody can afford the same brand – whether you are given a coat or whether you buy a coat. It’s a way of coming together,” explained older sister, Kristee.
The company is named after Kristee and Ashley’s late grandfather, Ray whom they considered their best friend growing up. He would encourage the girls to follow their dreams and believe in themselves. This inspiration often came at times when Kristee and Ashley felt insecure about their imperfections – for Kristee it was her acne and for Ashley it was her height. The girls remember not speaking for fear of being noticed.
But once their grandfather’s words resonated and they were able to grow past these self-doubts, they found a way to carry on his inspiring message.
“We decided to stitch ‘Believe’ inside every coat because every time that children or adults put the coats we want them to be inspired as they walk out the door to start their day… to go out and believe and be inspired and inspire others,” Ashley said.
At their routine giveaways, Kristee and Ashley spread this message of “Believe” not only through the coats, but through the speeches they give to the children they encounter.
“It’s extremely important to us to help young girls, especially because we know what it takes. We’ve been there. We’ve walked in their shoes. We know what would have helped us at that point in our life, so we want to reach out and say you can do this, and this is why and this how,” Kristee said.
Each coat offers the warmth and the hope that came with Grandpa Ray’s embrace, and his granddaughters are now on a mission to spread that warmth.