Leann Kersten had always dreamt of helping supply children with the necessary winter gear. Working as a paraprofessional at the school, every year she would see children playing outside in the blistering cold.
“You see kids out there playing around, and they don’t have the warm gear they really need,” Kersten said.
There has always been and always will be a need for coats, hats, mittens, gloves and snow pants. These items are expensive and children don’t seem to fit into them for very long before they outgrow them.
Kersten is a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and about 12 years ago she reached out to her pastor about her dream.
“We had a pastor at that time who was very mission oriented. He was very encouraging and he said ‘well, let's try it,’” she said.
Kersten started the project by setting out tubs at the Bloomfield churches in hopes the community would contribute items. She was asking for newer, slightly used, clean winter gear for both children and adults.
“The response from the community was overwhelming,” she said.
Kersten collected many donated coats and gloves but also received shirts and socks as well.
Kersten and other volunteers put all the donated items up for display, just like a store. The reactions from some of the children were priceless.
“It was hot that day, and some kids wouldn’t take their coats off. They had never had a nice winter coat before,” she said.
After seeing such a response not only to the donations but to the giveaway as well, Kersten decided there is a large need right here in Knox County.
Every year she is surprised how much the donations grow. She now puts tubs out at Country Market, Kersten Auto, Bloomfield City offices as well as all the churches.
Kersten also advertises outside of Bloomfield and has seen some people donate and come take part in the giveaway from other Knox County communities, including Center and Creighton.
She said last year was the biggest year yet for collection and giving away. According to Kersten, they had over 1,000 items.
“We have also been given cash donations on two occasions. Then I go out and bargain shop for coats,” she said.
Kersten usually starts advertising for the coat donation in late summer, in hopes some people will be getting rid of some winter items they no longer fit into or want.
Coats, especially for children, can become a costly expense every year as the kids outgrow their clothes quickly. Kersten sees some families come donate the items they had received the year before and exchange them for new sizes. She hopes to see more families partake in this sort of recycling of the coats.
The giveaway takes just as much advertising and organizing as the donations do. Over the years, Kersten has acquired racks from stores going out of business and borrowing from the church just to accommodate all the donated items.
On average, there will be 10 racks filled with coats and tables filled with hats, gloves, and even donated quilts, blankets and bath towels.
“I have lots of help from some wonderful ladies. About 4 or 5 other ladies and myself will wash coats, set up the church basement, organize by size and color and put them on the racks,” Kersten said.
She said Vernon Miller is always willing to help get those heavy racks where they need to be. Kersten also supplies coffee and rolls and has coloring books to occupy children while their parents shop around. The volunteers all help customers pick out or find whatever they need, just like a store.
So far, this years donations have been great with the tub at St. Marks full, as well as many tubs at churches in town. Kersten said she welcomes all these items, including those with easy fixes like a broken zipper.
Kersten will be picking up the items on October 11 and is asking volunteers to set out the items on racks and tables in time for the giveaway, which will be October 13 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
“If you are in need of a winter coat or something else, come and get it. Everyone contributes, everyone can receive it,” she said.