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Gone within hours: Church’s coat giveaway shows increase in need

It may be a sign of the times that the free coats and clothing were gone in just a few hours at Trinity Lutheran’s annual winter clothing give-away event on Saturday.

“One thing we noticed this year as opposed to other years is that the need is so much greater,” said Charles Jensvold, who co-chairs the church’s Christian Outreach Committee.

“I’m not sure if it’s because we publicized it better, but my goodness … we had to call the radio stations to take it off the air.”

The event usually runs all of one Saturday and much of the following week.

This year it was over within a few hours.

“There was such a need out there that it all went on Saturday,” he said. “We had people waiting at the door to come in.”

For a number of years now the church has given away free winter coats, hats, boots, and clothing to help make sure people are ready for the cold weather.

“Usually we get five or 10 people (at a time) throughout the day, this year so many people came at the beginning…”

The event was supposed to start at 9 a.m., but there were 10 to 15 people lined up at 8:30 a.m.

“It was such a miserable day, with that cold, wet wind, we did let people in a little early — we didn’t want people sitting outside in that,” Jensvold said.

A lot of the clothing given away is actually new, since church members start planning for the event in the springtime, when stores mark down their winter coats and other items.

“That’s when the big sales are,” Jensvold said. “We remind our donors in the springtime.”

“We have a few quite generous donors in the church, and some that aren’t in the church,” he added.

Businesses also help. Lakeshirts donated 182 sweatshirts this year, for example. So it’s not just coats and winter gear, it’s footwear and clothing in all sizes, including infants, and even underwear, Jensvold said. “Quite a bit of it is new clothing — maybe that’s one reason it’s so popular.”

People were not limited in what they could take, and some shopped for extended families, he said.

“Everyone was very thankful,” Jensvold said. “We found people to be very appreciative.”

The event has always been publicized in the media, and the church this year reached out to places in need, like Mahube, The Refuge homeless shelter, and A Place to Belong support program for people with mental illness, Jensvold said.

Posters were also distributed in all area schools and in Ogema, Waubun and White Earth.

“We really got the word out there this year. I guess it paid off — we were prepared to have a long day there, and by 10 or 11 o’clock we were sitting there having tea,” Jensvold said.

There were some unhappy people who showed up later in the day to find everything pretty much gone, and the church will reassess whether to make changes in the give-away next year, like keeping some clothing in reserve to bring out throughout the day.

“It went so fast,” he said. “We had people come later that would have liked the chance to look over the clothing, too.”

Jensvold said members of the committee and church deserve a lot of credit for the time, money and work they put into the event each year.

“We consider it very successful,” he said. “The clothes were very needed.”