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Warm coats from warm hearts

Annual Coats for Kids drive returns

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
TJ Pingel, general manager of Shimkat Motor Co., holds up one of the coats donated for the Coats For Kids program as Regina Suhrbier, outreach coordinator for Community Health Center of Fort Dodge, looks on. The dealership and the health center partner in the program to collect coats and other winter wear for children.

It may be a simple thing that many take for granted, but for many school children in Fort Dodge, having a nice warm winter coat isn’t part of their lives.

The annual Coats for Kids drive — which gets donated new coats to children in need of them — is accepting coats, other winter wear and cash donations to make sure that a warm coat does become part of life for those children.

The drive is a joint effort of Shimkat Motor Co. and the Community Health Center of Fort Dodge.

TJ Pingel, general manager of Shimkat Motor Co., said this is the drive’s 10th year.

“Ten years ago, Ed Shimkat Jr. and Lisa Shimkat realized there’s a need in the schools for coats,” Pingel said. “Some didn’t have any and some were not up to par. How could they help fill this void?”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
TJ Pingel, general manager of Shimkat Motor Co., holds up one of the coats donated for the Coats For Kids program as Regina Suhrbier, outreach coordinator for Community Health Center of Fort Dodge, looks over a vehicle full of other donated coats in the dealership’s showroom. The dealership and the health center partner in the program to collect coats and other winter wear for children.

Initially, he said, the program was just in the schools, but in the years since, the program has expanded to include the whole community.

After a few years, it grew in scope beyond what the Shimkat Motor Co. could do on its own.

“We teamed up with Community Health about eight years ago,” he said.

Each year, the program has grown.

“Last year,” he said. “Was our biggest year ever. We had about four or five vans full. We had a lot of great donors come in. One person brought in 10 bags full. We have a doctor that fills a vehicle by himself.”

Regina Suhrbier, outreach coordinator for the Health Center, is working on the project for the first time.

“I’m surprised at how great the need is,” she said. “I’ve had many people calling. It’s already cold.”

For a child in school, not having a coat is not only a health risk, but it locks the student out of things like outdoor recess.

“You can’t go out and play at recess if you don’t have the proper gear,” she said.

It can become a social issue too.

“It’s easy to feel left out if you don’t have a coat,” Pingel said.

“Every kid should have a fair chance to go outside,” Suhrbier added.

While the drive’s main emphasis is on coats, that’s only part of the need.

“It’s more than coats,” she said. “They need hats and gloves. We’ll take anything to keep the kids warm.”

Pingel said they work with the counselors at each school to get a list of sizes and number of coats needed. The counselors then pick up the coats on distribution day.

That’s scheduled for Dec. 7 from 9 a.m. until noon at the Community Health Center, 126 N. 10th St.

Coats not spoken for or donated coats that may not fit a child are also distributed. She said that they, along with many items donated by Community Health staff, are available on pickup day too.

“We put those in our lobby for everybody,” she said.

The Coats for Kids drive is also accepting monetary donations.

“The public is very generous with their donations,” Suhrbier said. “There are always some sizes needed more than others. The monetary donations let us fill those.”

In addition to Shimkat Motor Co., donations of coats may be taken to Coldwell Banker, Mineral City Bar and Grill, Perkins Restaurant of the Community Health Center.

The most popular sizes during the last few years have been boys and girls 7/8, 10/12 and 14/16. Adult sized coats are also needed for middle and high school aged children.

Monetary donations can be mailed or brought to the Community Health Center.