News of bitterly cold weather across part of the nation is more a preview of coming attractions than the arrival of winter, which doesn’t officially begin until Dec. 21.

As many Americans arose to the first genuinely cold day since last winter, our attention turned suddenly to the normal preparations for winter — making sure our homes’ heating systems are ready for use, our cars have appropriate anti-freeze, our outdoor pipes are insulated and provisions made for plants and pets. No doubt, many will convert their wardrobe for the approaching season.

Even here in Florida temps are expected to take a dip in the next few days, possibly leaving some ill prepared.

Hopefully, any taste of winter will inspire us to think of others.

For the poor in our community, winter weather is far more than an inconvenience. It can pose a significant health risk, too. Each year, it is estimated that 200,000 Americans die as a result of exposure to cold weather. In addition to obvious cold-related health threats such as hypothermia, studies show that exposure to severe cold can increase the risk of heart attack by 31%. Children are especially vulnerable, since they can’t regulate body temperature as efficiently as adults. The threat of pneumonia among children exposed to severe cold is much higher than for adults, as a result.

Our community is blessed with many organizations that cater to these needs, but there seems to be one specific need that has yet to find a consistent benefactor — jackets, winter coats or blankets.

Storing and sorting donated itemss takes a lot of space and manpower.

Those of you who belong to civic or church groups looking for a way to help should consider sponsoring a coat or blanket drive.

As cold weather reminds us, it’s not too early to start thinking about just how much a warm coat means to those in need, especially the homeless, for whom a coat is their best, perhaps only, defense against the cold.

So, if your group is searching for a way to meet the needs of the less fortunate, a coat or blanket drive seems like an obvious choice. It’s not proprietary, either. The only thing better than a coat drive is two or three or four such drives.

If you or your group is inspired to start a coat or blanket drive, be sure to let us know and we’ll help spread the word.

An editorial from The Columbus (South Carolina) Dispatch.