A beloved coat keeps on giving after owner’s death

A beloved coat keeps on giving after owner’s death

Patricia Richards of North Smithfield holds up the batch of coats she purchased to donate to Help the Homeless RI after receiving a donated coat from a friend.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Albert Valliere’s wife and daughter say he would have given the shirt off his back to help a stranger, so it’s a fitting tribute that two months after his death, an effort to donate one of his old coats has helped more people than they ever thought possible.

Valliere, the former president of Nationwide Construction, had a larger-than-life presence in the northern Rhode Island community. To his friends and neighbors in North Smithfield, he was an altruistic leader, partnering with community development agencies to build affordable housing and serving on various local boards. To his family, he was a hero, a devoted grandfather who completed triathlons in his spare time.

In the winter, his family said, he wore a coat they affectionately called his “Costanza coat.” According to his daughter, Nicole, the puffy jacket made him look just like George Costanza from the “Seinfeld” episode where George gets a new coat. The coat was a frequent target of jokes among the family, but Al loved it, and wore it for close to 20 years.

After his death in October, his wife, Paula, decided to donate the coat. She offered it to her friend, Patricia Richards, to give it to a homeless charity. Richards said she was at home a few weeks later when Paula dropped off a beautiful, warm winter coat.

“My sister was with me when I came in the house and she said I love that coat, and I said well, you can’t have it. Paula gave it to me for the homeless people,” she said.

But her sister was persistent, and offered to purchase the coat for her boyfriend. Seeing an opportunity, Richards agreed to sell it to her for $200. She took that $200 to Ocean State Job Lot and bought five new coats to donate to the store’s collection program for homeless veterans.

After the donation, the store gave her a $200 gift card as part of its “Buy-Give-Get” program. She took that $200 and bought five more coats, this time bringing them to Help the Homeless RI, an organization that distributes supplies and food in Woonsocket, Pawtucket and West Warwick.

“You’ve heard of the multiplication of the fishes? This is the multiplication of the coats,” said Richards. “One person would’ve been warm, and now 10 people are warm.”

Valliere’s family said he would have been thrilled to learn about the turn of events. Paula compared it to an O. Henry Christmas story and said her husband was known for his contributions to the community.

“Suffice it to say that people who met him really, really cared about him,” she said. “He’d walk into a room and take over, he had a personality that was bigger than life.”

Nicole added that her father loved North Smithfield and wouldn’t hesitate to help anyone in need.

“All he ever wanted to do was help people. That’s it,” she said.

Richards said she hopes the story inspires others to give. Help the Homeless RI is always looking for coats, tents and other winter items at this time of year, she said, and other organizations run coat drives and food collections. The problem of homelessness, she said, can seem insurmountable, but it doesn’t take a lot to make a difference.

“You don’t have to save the world, you could just give them a coat, give them some mittens,” she said.

To learn more about Help the Homeless RI, visit www.helpthehomelessri.org .