Hundreds of people from the Detroit Lakes area no longer have to worry about getting left out in the cold this winter, thanks to Trinity Lutheran Church’s 2019 Coat Giveaway.
The giveaway, held this past Saturday, Oct. 5, provided coats, boots, hats, mittens, sweatshirts and other winter gear to a record 617 adults, teens and children — over 100 people more than last year’s giveaway, which provided gear to 501 people.
Charles Jensvold, who co-chairs the giveaway with fellow Trinity member Kate Hedman, said he was happy with how the event went, but was reluctant to dub it a “success.”
“Calling it successful depends on how you look at it,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for a number of years now and...when you’ve got more people in need, is that really a success? Ideally, we’d have no one show up.”
Jensvold said the coat drive has been going on at Trinity for at least the past 15 years. It started as a much smaller-scale event that provided coats and boots to a small number of people in need in the community. Over the years, it grew and evolved into something larger, with a more varied assortment of items available, more structure in the way it's organized, and the involvement of a larger number of volunteers.
“It’s expanded, it really has,” Jensvold said. “We have some very generous contributors from our congregation, and a lot of our stuff is new. Lakeshirts is also very generous, always contributing at least 150 sweatshirts each year.”
The giveaway is organized by the church’s Outreach Committee. It takes about 25 volunteers to set up for the event over the two days prior to it, plus another 25 or so to volunteer during the day of the event. Churchgoers of all ages help out, from the quilters who make and donate quilts every year, to the “God Squad” from the church’s youth program who help carry boxes and set up tables and chairs. Some volunteers act as “personal shoppers” for the families who attend the giveaway, helping them find what they need in a timely, organized fashion.
Organization was an especially important task this year, Jensvold said, as it poured rain outside all day and people needed to be let into the church early so they wouldn’t get drenched.
“It was a miserable day,” he laughed. “People were lining up in the rain, with children and babies... Usually we open the doors at 9 a.m., but we let them inside the church early.”
Since the giveaway is first-come, first-serve, volunteers needed to somehow get everyone inside, without any of the clients losing their place in the original line.
“We ushered them in, in the order that they came, became you have to give the first ones the benefit because they’ve been standing there the longest,” Jensvold explained. “So we ushered them in on one side, pew by pew… So we were then able to take them in, in order. We got them all out of the rain at 8:30. I felt so good about that.”
Jensvold says donated items come in all year long for the giveaway, and are kept in storage until just a couple days before the event. They’re then sorted through by volunteers, who label the items by size and gender and arrange them so they’re easily visible. Volunteers — this year, it was the “God Squad” — also prepare sack lunches for the client families, so everyone leaves with a paper bag full of goodies to take home, in addition to their new warm clothes.