Coats for the community

At Operation Warm It Forward, donated outerwear helps people keep warm

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
The coat rack for Operation Warm It Forward at 521 Central Ave. is looking sparse on Thursday afternoon. With temperatures dropping below zero this weekend, some members of the community may be in need of a warm coat.

With cold weather and wind chills of -30 degrees expected, a warm winter coat will become a necessity this weekend.

However, not everyone has a cozy parka to keep out the icy air. For those who don’t have something to keep them warm this winter, a couple of Fort Dodge community members are bringing the warmth to downtown Fort Dodge.

Operation Warm it Forward was started in 2017 by Linette Nelson and Troy Schroeder, of Fort Dodge. Nelson learned of another city that was doing a community coat drive and leaving coats on street poles around town for those in need to pick up at their convenience.

“Knowing Troy and his connection with the community and having a location right downtown, where it would be easy for people to see and to take part of, I connected with him to see if he wanted to partner up,” Nelson said.

Since then, every winter, the duo set up a coat rack outside of Schroeder’s Memories in Focus studio at 521 Central Ave. The coat rack stays outside 24/7 and anyone is invited to come up to take what they need.

Donations to the coat rack are also always accepted, Nelson said — just bring the coats and hang them up.

Operation Warm it Forward accepts all sizes of coats, but they still must be usable and in good condition, she said.

Nelson estimates that the coat rack has seen “well over 1,500” coats pass through it over the last couple years.

However, lately the coat rack has been looking “a little sparse,” she said.

In addition to the coat rack, Operation Warm it Forward has a box for gloves, scarves and hats to be donated and available for those in need.

Having the coat rack outside and in downtown makes the coats accessible and the act of taking one anonymous, Nelson said. Some may feel they have barriers to other coats programs from other agencies and organizations in the community, like having to meet specific income requirements, or just feeling embarrassed to ask for a coat. Having this anonymous coat rack takes away those barriers.

In past years, when the project has had a surplus of coats, they’ve expanded to add other coat rack locations around town. The project even has its own Facebook Page, www.facebook.com/operationwarmitforard, for updates and calls for donations.

“I can tell you, from the coat donations that we have received — which we’ve received quite a few — they are already gone,” Nelson said. “So I would say that the need definitely continues.”

With the recent holidays, some may have received a new winter coat as a gift, Nelson said. She encourages those who did to donate their old coats to Operation Warm it Forward, in keeping with the holiday spirit.


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