First Lutheran's gap ministry seeks winter coats, snow pants and boots

Dec. 5—WORTHINGTON — Unseasonably warm weather across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa may be keeping people from donning their heavy winter coats, hats and mittens — and the lack of snow means no use for snow boots — but we all know that winter will come ... eventually.

The temporary grace from the cold and snow has offered a welcome relief for First Lutheran Church's Coat Closet, a gap ministry affiliated with Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC), as they still have a selection of new and gently used coats hanging from racks inside a former Sunday school classroom.

Kathy Craun, one of the program's coordinators, however, is concerned that when the winter wind whips and the snow flies, the coats they have will fly off the hangers. She said in the five years since they started the Coat Closet, they are at the lowest inventory they've ever had.

"First when we started, everyone cleaned out their closets, which was great," shared Craun, noting that 100 coats were given away during the first year of the gap ministry. "We started out as a coat closet, but we found out people also need boots, and kids snow pants."

Boots and kids snow pants are currently the church's greatest needs, Craun said, although any new or gently used, clean winter coat of any size is needed — particularly for teen boys and girls (small and medium adult coats). She said there is a need for men's coveralls as well, along with men's gloves.

"We did have a group from JBS that came and pretty much cleaned us out of (coveralls)," Craun shared. "A lot of them are working in cold areas of the plant. Or they work on farms."

Last year, the Coat Closet distributed 300 coats and 680 items in all, which included snow pants, gloves, hats and scarves.

"Our experience has been that we're seeing more families — a mom and dad and two, three or four children of all sizes," Craun said, noting recent visits by several new immigrants from Haiti, as well as Guatemala.

In addition to spreading word about the need for donations, Craun said they strive to inform the public about the availability of outdoor winter attire in hopes of reaching those most in need.

First Lutheran distributes information about its Coat Closet to 33 local churches, as well as to social service agencies, school counselors and others who work with people in need. Craun encourages people to help neighbors in need by reaching out to Love INC or First Lutheran Church.

The Coat Closet is accessible from the First Lutheran Church parking lot by entering the door marked office entrance. The gap ministry is open from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays, 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays, or by appointment if an individual or family can't come during those hours.

"The Monday and Friday guests, we encourage them to call for an appointment," Craun said. "Wednesdays there's always someone here from 4 to 7."

Children and adults in need of a coat are required to come in person to try on the coats and find the one that best fits them.

"We don't guarantee we can meet everybody's need, but we're doing the best we can," Craun said. "We hope we can make this an ongoing ministry."

People who would like to donate to The Coat Closet may drop off donations at First Lutheran Church between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays, or on Wednesday evenings.

"Or they can drop them off at Love INC too," Craun said. "We'll accept them at any time."

Monetary donations are also accepted, and are used to purchase new coats, hats, mittens and boots when they run out of specific sizes and can't meet a need. Donations may be mailed to First Lutheran Church, 1200 Fourth Ave., Worthington, with a notation in the memo line of the check that it is for The Coat Closet.

"We do have people who call us every year who ... ask what we need," Craun said, adding that their gap ministry has received monetary donations from as far away as California. "A lot of times friends and relatives hear about it and want to donate here — we are kind of a mission."

Craun is one of half a dozen volunteers who assist with the Coat Closet, and she'd like to recruit more people to help.

"We have a really great team from First Lutheran and people willing to help out," added Rev. Jeanette McCormick. She offered her thanks to local businesses, churches and individuals who have supported the winter clothing ministry over the past five years.

"The scope is far beyond what we at First Lutheran could do," she said.