During last year's holiday season, watching Good Morning America collect coats for the homeless, Jeff Buhrman had an idea.
''They were talking about 'One Warm Coat' collecting coats throughout the holiday season, and I said to myself, 'Why can't we?'''
By ''we,'' Buhrman meant the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C. (GMCW), a choir of about 250 singers, for which he serves as artistic director.
''We have developed a rather extensive community outreach program over the last few years, with both singing and non-singing activities,'' he says. ''It's important that we give back to the community. It's part of our mission.''
Buhrman has expanded GMCW's charitable mission -- which has included caroling for people at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) hospital during Christmas as well as collecting toys for needy children -- by getting the chorus behind One Warm Coat, a national nonprofit organization that, over the past year, has collected about 300,000 coats across 49 states.
''Their mission is to ensure that anyone who needs a coat has one,'' Buhrman says.
To help make that possible locally, chorus members will be collecting coats at various gay community spots throughout November.
''Almost everyone is blessed with too many winter coats in their closet, either that they don't use or they've outgrown. Why not take the time to donate them to somebody else, so someone who needs a coat during the winter season can have one?''
The chorus requests that donated coats be in good condition with working buttons or zippers.
Michael Hill, chairman of the board of directors at GMCW, was excited to hear about the endeavor when the chorus' outreach committee announced it.
''The chorus -- it seems every year -- has added something else to its outreach efforts, so this didn't surprise me as much as it just made me proud that we were doing one other thing to show the positive impact that gay people, in our case the folks that participate in the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, can have,'' says Hill.
''I think campaigns like One Warm Coat show that the chorus is more than just the 200 guys that sing onstage. It's really a whole family that cares about the broader gay community. This is just one sign of our giving back. I hope anyone that's interested in doing this kind of work or supporting us gets in touch with the chorus office to help out.''
Buhrman says community outreach is vital to the GMCW coat drive.
Hill also points out that having ''gay'' in the group's name is an important element for the organization during its performances and community outreach efforts.
''A lot of gay choruses in the country have eliminated the word 'gay' or 'lesbian' from their name and have come up with 'men's chorus' or 'women's chorus,' because, to be honest, it's easier to get sponsorships and other types of things,'' Hill says. ''But we really feel like it's important to keep the word in our title, because it's just a huge part of our identity. And I think that it opens up dialogue for folks.
''For those who have known and loved the chorus for a long time, it's a non-issue. For those still struggling with the issue [or the roles] gay people play in society, coming to one of our concerts or seeing one of our promotional opportunities sparks conversations.''
The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington will be collecting coats through November on Mondays from 7 to 11 p.m. at JR.'s, 1519 17th St. NW; on Fridays from 7 to 11 p.m. at Cobalt, 1639 R St. NW; on Saturdays from 12 to 3 p.m. at Commissary, 1443 P St. NW, from 1 to 4 p.m. at JR.'s and from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Green Lantern, 1335 Green Court NW; on Sundays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., on the fifth floor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Ave. NW; and at all performances of baby, it's GAY outside! in December. For more information visit www.gmcw.org.