Anonymous angel delivers winter coats to the homeless through her charity

By Greg Mellen

As Southern California emerges from one of the rainiest and coldest Februaries on record, Peyton Hitzler takes deep satisfaction from knowing that she helped spare hundreds of homeless residents from the adverse effects of the winter weather.

Over the past five years, Peyton, a senior at Capistrano Valley High School, has collected and distributed winter coats through her charity “Coco’s Coats,” which have been donated to nonprofits that serve people experiencing homelessness.

For her efforts, Peyton was honored by KNX News as a Hero of the Week in January.

“I always feel grateful for my life when I’m able to help others,” Peyton said. “I feel loved in return.”

Peyton said much of her feeling is found in a motto of her group, which comes from 1 Corinthians 16:14 in the Bible, which translates in the English standard version to “Let all that you do be done in love.”

In many ways, Peyton may seem just a high-achieving high school kid. Scrappy second baseman on the varsity softball team, president of the Associated Student Body, carrying a 4.4 GPA and headed to Texas Christian University.. But she’s so much more.

“She has such a big heart,” says her mom, Amy.

Peyton Hitzler, right, and her mom, Amy, have delivered 517 coats for homeless residents in past five years through Peyton’s charity, Coco’s Coats.
Photo courtesy of Peyton Hitzler

For more than 500 homeless and suffering residents in Orange County and beyond, she is an anonymous angel. In recent years, the coats have gone to the Hope Center in Huntington Beach, the Anaheim School District Family Outreach Program, and the Peace Center in Anaheim.

Peyton has never met any of the recipients, nor have they met her. She is simply an unknown benefactress.

There are a number of reasons for this, including liability and privacy issues, since Peyton was a minor as were classmates who helped out when Coco’s Coats was a high school club.

A name in search of a cause

Five years ago, Peyton’s coat journey began. She and her mom, Amy, were hanging out at the dinner table in their Mission Viejo home when they hit upon the idea. At the time, Peyton said she noticed that “homelessness was being brought to the surface.”

Peyton was part of a Life Group at her church and thinking about the issue.

“She wanted a passion project,” Amy recalls.

According to Amy, her daughter was thinking about handing out socks or goody bags to the homeless with toiletries and other essentials. Suddenly, her mom went next level in a true chicken-or-the-egg moment, coming up with both the name of the charity and its mission.

“Coco’s Coats, we could give coats to the homeless,” Peyton remembers her mom blurting out.

The catchy Coco nickname had been bestowed on Peyton by her younger sister Cameron, when she couldn’t pronounce Peyton as a toddler. Now a senior in high school, Peyton has mostly ditched the nickname, though it still lingers in the family and with some of her softball teammates.

“I remember being excited by the idea,” Peyton said. “I knew it would be a lot of work. I wondered if I wanted to put in the effort.”

Once in, however, Peyton and Amy were fully in.

Each year, the Hitzler family car becomes Santa’s sleigh, as winter coats are collected and delivered through Coco’s Coats, a charity founded by Capo Valley High senior Peyton. Hitzler.
Photo courtesy of Peyton Hitzler

Peyton took over outreach, organizing, and soliciting, while Amy became her chauffeur for pickups and deliveries. Now that Peyton drives, the strain on mom for transport has been somewhat relieved.

“It was our labor of love,” Amy said.

This year, Coco’s Coats was stronger than ever. With help from Cameron and the Lion’s Heart service club, which provides service opportunities for teens, Coco’s Coats gathered 134 coats this winter and expanded its base of donors.

Good thing, according to Amy, who said Coco’s Coats had pretty much raided the closets of Peyton’s friends and family.

Peyton continues to gather new and gently used coats from throughout the community. She can also be reached through Coco’s Coats on Instagram.

The hope is Cameron, along with her twin brother, Reed, will help keep up the cause through their volunteer efforts. And their youngest sister, Kenley, may pitch in as well, as she will enter Capistrano Valley High next year.

“I hope they can keep the ball rolling for me,” Peyton said.

Peyton plans to continue to work remotely on Coco’s Coats from college in the fall and dive into collecting coats in person when she’s home on vacation.

She would also like to redress one missing aspect of her charity experience. Next winter, she will be an adult and would like to meet some of those who receive the coats.

Peyton said it would mean a lot to her to be able to put faces to those she helps. Likewise, for the homeless and hurting, Peyton will be an anonymous angel no more.

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