Valley Boot Store Puts Best Foot Forward with Donation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There will be more warm, dry toes next winter thanks to a donation from Rick’s Ranchwear.

Rick Blase, owner of the store, said the 1,200 pairs of boots donated to Youngstown Blue Coats are work boots – both well-built and comfortable. Blase said he has veterans in his own family, and his vice president’s husband is a veteran. So with the positive things people from his company have been hearing about Youngstown Blue Coats, donating to the organization made a lot of sense to them.

“Some of these guys who are veterans, they go and they see stuff they shouldn’t have seen, and they come back and they don’t adjust well. So there’s a lot of homeless who are veterans,” Blase said.

The U.S. Interagency Council of Homelessness reports 10,656 homeless people in Ohio and 13,375 in Pennsylvania. More than 1,700 veterans are among them.

Blase started Rick’s Ranchwear in 1978 in the Mahoning Valley, with corporate offices now located in Canfield. The company’s name was changed to Rick’s Boot Factory Outlet, a reflection of the evolving business, in June 2018. The company now has stores in tourist areas in Florida, Tennessee and Nevada, as well as a warehouse in Florida.

The boots to help the homeless in this region were shipped from the Florida warehouse to the local store, where they were picked up by Youngstown Blue Coats team members Friday and transported to the organization’s new 2,300-square-foot facility at 2654 N. Main St., Hubbard.

Roseann Panning, vice president of Youngstown Blue Coats, called the boot donation “such a blessing,” noting the organization spent $23,000 to purchase boots last year for the donations that they made. And that was with an opportunity for the organization to purchase them at $20 per pair.

“The need is so great,” Panning said. “We helped over 3,800 people [last year], and 900 of them were veterans.”

The organization also finds children among those in need and currently works with seven school districts and 64 agencies. This time of year, Youngstown Blue Coats focuses on fundraising efforts, including a golf outing, cornhole tournament and regular attendance at the farmers market in Hubbard.

The organization accepts material donations and money. A drop-off bin for donations was recently installed outside the organization’s Hubbard office.

Panning said when the organization doesn’t get enough donated items, such as coats in bigger sizes, they have to purchase them. And the price is rising with inflation. Through wholesalers, the organization used to be able to purchase 12 coats for $14 to $15, but now the price is $19 for just six of them.

Youngstown Blue Coats is known for bringing donations of warming items, including coats and boots, along with information for assistance services, directly to homeless people in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The volunteer organization uses a converted, blue 1998 school bus to complete its missions. But when the steering started acting up during the last run this spring, Panning said they learned from a mechanic that the gears in the steering box of the blue bus came loose and went through the engine and the transmission.

“So now we’re in very desperate need of a vehicle,” Panning said, adding the organization owns a trailer and one of the team members is pulling it with his personal truck. “We are doing something on Saturday [usually called] Stuff the Bus. Well, now it’s Stuff the Trailer.”

Panning remains positive, despite such setbacks.

“God has provided so much for us, so we’re trusting in him,” she said.

Pictured at top: Rick Blase, owner of Rick’s Ranchwear, holds a boot in his store.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.