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‘It’s a necessity’

Coats for Kids provides warmth for 1,000 each year

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Snow pants are draped over chairs in the Community Health Center waiting room while baskets of winter coats await their new owners during the Coats for Kids drive-thru on Saturday morning.

Winter may not have reared its ugly and frozen head in central Iowa just yet, but it will soon, and Community Health Center of Fort Dodge and Shimkat Motor Co. want to make sure area children are ready to bundle up.

The drive-thru distribution for Coats for Kids was Saturday morning at CHC, 126 N. 10th St., where staff volunteers waited curbside for “customers” to come by. A line of cars wrapped around the block when the event started at 9 a.m., CHC Outreach Coordinator Regina Suhrbier said.

Cars would stop at the curb, where volunteers would take their orders of how many coats they needed and in what sizes. Runners would take the orders inside the health center, where more volunteers would pick out the coats needed to fill the orders, and the runners would deliver the bags of coats back out to the cars. CHC also had some snow pants and snow boots, as well as scarves, hats and gloves for those who requested them.

“This all got started with Lisa Shimkat,” Suhrbier said. As a member of the Fort Dodge school board, Shimkat saw the need that many families in the district had for warm winter outerwear.

The program continued to grow and a partnership was formed with CHC over 10 years ago, where CHC took over the organization and planning, while Shimkat Motor Co. serves as the primary collection location for donations.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Jennifer Spencer, a nurse at Community Health Center of Fort Dodge, holds open a bag for Jan Remsburg, pod coordinator at CHC's Manson location, to fill with winter coats during the Coats for Kids drive-thru on Saturday morning.

Throughout the fall, community members can drop off new and gently-used winter wear at Shimkat Motor Co. and other collection sites. The CHC volunteers then sort the donations by size and gender to prepare for the giveaway event.

In the past, families would come into the CHC’s waiting room to request the coats they needed.

That changed in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, Suhrbier said.

“We still wanted to do Coats for Kids, but we needed to do it differently, so we did the drive-thru,” she said. “We discovered the drive-thru works better for everyone.”

The CHC staff can use the waiting room to better spread out the stock and families don’t have to worry about finding a parking space and trying to corral their kids in a crowded lobby, she added.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Corey Crosby, risk manager for infection control at Community Health Center, helps his 7-year-old daughter Amelia fill an order during CHC's Coats for Kids drive-thru on Saturday morning.

A final count of the coats that were given out this year hasn’t been tallied, but last year’s numbers neared 1,000 and the same, if not more, were expected this year, Suhrbier said.

“We have seen an increase in need for coats and a decline in the number of people coming on distribution day because we so heavily work with the schools,” Suhrbier said.

Surhbier coordinates with the Fort Dodge schools and teachers to determine how many coats their students need, and she spends the week before the public distribution day delivering those orders so teachers can hand them out to the students.

“That way the families have them and know if they need to come or not today and there’s less duplication and more coats getting on kids that definitely are in need of a coat,” she said.

Then families who maybe weren’t identified by their schools as in need, or don’t have school-age children, or who are from schools out of the area, are able to come to the public distribution day to get what they need.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Cassy George, recruiter and benefit specialist at Community Health Center, and nurse Jennifer Spencer sort through winter hats and gloves to donate to local elementary schools during CHC's Coats for Kids drive-thru on Saturday morning.

“We try to help as many as we can,” she said.

Families aren’t required to fill out any paperwork or information, Suhrbier said. There are many reasons a child might need a winter coat and they don’t want to put any barriers in their way.

“Every kid is going to get a coat,” Suhrbier said.

If they run out of a size that’s needed, they take down the contact information for the parents and the sizes needed, and Suhrbier will take care of it.

Winter coats and other cold weather accessories can be a huge financial burden for families, especially those with multiple children, Suhrbier said. Adding the cost of a coat with the costs for gloves, hats, boots and snow pants can total more than $100 per child, she said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Amelia Crosby, 7, looks over her order forms while waiting for more visitors during Community Health Center's Coats for Kids drive-thru on Saturday morning. Though the youngest volunteer, Crosby took on a leadership role for the event.

Those are also often annual expenses as children grow from year to year and can’t fit into the previous year’s apparel.

“It’s a necessity,” Suhrbier said of winter wear. “It’s not a want, it’s a necessity. They’ve got to

have those things to go out for recess.”

Many monetary donations are made to Coats for Kids, which Suhrbier uses in late winter and

early spring to buy as many coats as she can, while they’re on clearance and she can make the

dollars stretch more.

While Saturday’s distribution drive-thru has passed, Coats for Kids hasn’t finished its goal to

keep kids warm. Suhrbier said sometimes after the event, more families and kids in need will be

identified and she’ll work to get them coats.

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