WRAL-TV’s Coats for the Children Telethon marked two milestones at the daylong event on Friday, December 14, 2018. First, the Telethon celebrated 30 years of working to keep Triangle children warm, and the second, the broadcast would be the final run for WRAL-TV Director of Local Production Phyllis Parish. Parish will be retiring in March after 36 years at the Big 5.
Things worked together send her out with a bang.
“Friday’s weather was rainy and raw which worked in our favor,” said Parish. “Weather was top of mind when people went outside and considered how difficult it would be without warm jackets. And our crew didn’t let the heavy rain stop our outdoor plans. We ‘made snow’ under the breezeway instead of the WRAL Plaza and we set up tents at Jiffy Lube where Elizabeth Gardner could stay dry while doing interviews and collecting coats and toys. Those live shots really brought home the chilly weather and the thought of cold months to come for families needing warm winter wear.”
In honor of the 30th telethon, Great Outdoor Provision Company celebrated by donating 30 boxes of 300 coats and a $3,000 check to the Salvation Army.
“Major Stephen Long with Wake County’s Salvation Army also got in on the 30th year with a fun idea – he rang the Salvation Army kettle bell for 30 straight hours and raised close to $3,500 for our telethon!” reported Parish.
At first she worried because fewer companies committed to contribute. But WRAL staffers stepped up to fill the gap.
“While planning this year‘s telethon, we unfortunately did not get as many check presentations from businesses,” said Parish. “Perhaps it was because they had already donated during the recent hurricanes. More anchors stepped up and offered their popular, behind-the-scenes station tours and we raised close to $5,000 with those! That helps the Salvation Army serve over 35 families in need of a hand up.”
All that three-decade excitement added up to a big result.
“Last year‘s total was $183,000, the most we had ever raised for the Salvation Army,” she said. “Of course, the team always wants to exceed the previous year’s total and we are well on our way! We ended the telethon Friday night with $154,000. But we continue raising money on WRAL.com online and text to give through the end of December. Currently, we are over $166,500! I feel confident we’ll have a new Coats Telethon record by December 31. That feels perfect for our 30th year!”
Parish always works behind the scenes producing the telethon, but this year her partner-in-crime, Corp/WRAL-TV Director of Community Relations Loretta Harper-Arnold made sure Parish got a moment in the spotlight.
“My biggest surprise Friday was at the end of our 7pm special,” explained Parish. “Loretta pushed me onto the set and the anchors presented lovely flowers and an on-air thank you, since I’m retiring next year. Wow, they got me good! Thoughts were swirling as I stood in the lights with Deb, Greg, Kathryn and Gerald. ‘He’s asking me questions. I don’t wanna be on-camera! I don’t like surprises. Now we’re gonna run long!’ Being a producer, I was worried about our out time LOL. But I was honored and blown away by their kind tribute.”
Also to highlight Parish and her contributions, the News & Observer selected her as the Tar Heel of the Week, publishing a special piece about her on the day of the Telethon.
Parish reminisced about the years at the helm of the Coats Telethon, a cause which is near and dear to her heart:
It’s been a privilege working on every telethon for the last three decades. I have so many memories associated with Coats. I remember sweet Mr. Ovel, who brought in over 100 handmade hats and mittens to share with local children. Picture an older gentleman taking the time to crochet all of those soft, warm items! It made my heart smile.
I remember the Sandy Hook nightmare happening right before our 1pm special. I will never forget our broadcast team and all the phone volunteers huddled around a TV in the studio watching that tragedy unfold…ironically on the day we were helping local children in our neighborhoods.
Handbell choirs, Bill Leslie’s performances, school kids bringing in giant bags filled with coats, Southern Snowman‘s snow, Santa, Wool E. Bull, Monica Laliberte’s sweet pups, Raleigh Little Theatre’s fairy godmother…we’ve used all kinds of fun elements through the years with one goal in mind – to keep the phones ringing for the Salvation Army’s life changing work.
WRAL-TV’s Coats for the Children continues to make warm miracles happen for children in the need in the Triangle. Over 30 years, Parish and her team have made it snow on set, decorated trees with knitted hats, had variety of special guests and much more.
“This project brings a lot of joy both inside and outside the station,” concluded Parish. “I think the Coats Telethon team would agree, there’s nothing better than sharing a little hope with others, especially during the holiday season.”
Thanks to WRAL-TV’s Phyllis Parish, Debra Morgan, Brian Shrader, Ken Smith & Renee Chou for these capcom photos.