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Regional Coats for Kids program left out in cold

Last year, the drive collected 12,091 coats and accessories in 47 cities in Minnesota and North Dakota.

After 25 years of collecting donated winter wear, Fargo television station KVLY has discontinued its popular "Coats for Kids" clothing drive, leaving the local Salvation Army scrambling to keep a smaller version of the program going this fall.

"It was very much a surprise," said Tai Clark, family services director at the Salvation Army office in Fargo, which serves Cass and Clay counties.

Jim Wareham, president and general manager of KVLY/KXJB, said last year was KVLY's final year of "Coats for Kids," and the station now refers donors to the Salvation Army.

"We just simply collected for them and ran public service announcements, but it got to be a burden on our staff last year and we didn't get a whole lot of help on it, so it's something we decided not to do again this year," Wareham said.

Last year, the drive collected 12,091 coats and accessories in 47 cities in Minnesota and North Dakota, according to Valley News Live's website.

The items were distributed in a dozen cities: Carrington, Devils Lake, Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Larimore, Mayville and Valley City in North Dakota, and Climax, Crookston, Fergus Falls and Roseau in Minnesota.

Clark said KVLY's promotions director contacted her in June and asked if the Salvation Army would be willing to coordinate the drive, with the station still promoting it. But when Clark said the Fargo office could manage the effort only in its two-county service area, the KVLY promotion director told her the station would promote the coat drive only if the Salvation Army coordinated it throughout its entire viewing area.

"I felt like they could have contacted other distribution or collection partners in other areas and could have tried to coordinate something smaller in each independent area and still promoted it, rather than asking us if we wanted to do the whole viewing area and then when we weren't able to, then just saying they're not doing it," Clark said.

"But I'm sure that it was a lot of work for them, and I know they've gone through a lot of changes recently, as well," she added.

Now, the Fargo office is trying to stitch together a smaller clothing drive and distribute the donations in October, Clark said.

Social work students from Minnesota State University Moorhead are helping to coordinate the effort. Camelot Cleaners, which has cleaned the coats and other items in the past, isn't able to do so this year, but it offered to assist with collections, Clark said.

The Salvation Army

hasn't identified a new cleaning service and may simply ask that items be cleaned before being donated, she said.

Clark said she hopes to release information about collection and distribution sites and dates within the next two weeks.

"We're kind of on a really tight timeline now," she said.

If the drive materializes, it probably won't be called "Coats for Kids," Clark said. Salvation Army officials felt that the name was misleading because the drive also collected items for adults, she said.

In 2011, the Salvation Army distributed 693 adult coats, 1,332 children's coats and 3,053 accessories in Cass and Clay counties.

At least one other community also is taking action in the wake of KVLY's decision. In Jamestown, the Salvation Army, Ave Maria Village and One Hour Martinizing have joined forces to continue the drive for the area, KSJB-AM radio reported.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528