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Guest Column: Help fill the basic human need to be warm

Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


Last week, the heat wasn’t working in part of the building where the United Way of Freeborn County office is. We held a meeting in a cold room as there wasn’t any other place big enough for the group. After the meeting, I went downstairs, drank some hot tea and warmed up. Our heat’s working again, and the room is once again comfortable.

Of course, that’s not an option for everyone. It’s common knowledge, which is why coat drives are a popular thing for service groups and organizations to do. This year, United Way of Freeborn County has a program called Jack Frost’s Closet. With more than 15 drop boxes around Albert Lea and our surrounding communities, Jack Frost’s Closet is much more than a coat drive. It’s a full winter gear drive, collecting every thing from hats and gloves to socks and blankets.   

Jack Frost’s Closet is set up a little differently than many distribution drives. There is no income verification, no paperwork. We’ll ask a few simple questions, such as the town of residence and the number and ages of children. That’s it. Northbridge Mall has generously provided us with a storefront, across from Plaza Moreno. The Jack Frost Closet will be open specific dates and times, where community members can come and shop for their winter gear. No matter a person’s story, we all deserve that basic human need to be warm.

Additionally, the closet can travel to agencies as needed. We’ve been connecting with social workers at the school district, agencies around town, and letting them know that if there’s a need, just call us! We fully recognize that not everyone can make it to the mall during the store hours. United Way staff and volunteers will do their best to get a coat to those in need. Just recently, a man in need stopped by our office. We have a wonderful volunteer who drove home, found the coats she was planning on donating and brought them back for him.

People often think that, “one man’s trash is another’s treasure” or that, “it’s not great, but it’s better than nothing.” While this is true in many situations, I encourage people to think before donating. Do the zippers and buttons work? Is the coat clean and in good condition? Did you take out that $10 bill in the pocket you forgot about last winter? If this was given to you, would you wear it?

I was thrilled at some of the donations from St. Theodore’s last week. A good condition black Columbia coat and a good heavy duty camo snow pant and coat set were in the box. A good condition coat was also at the Walmart drop box. I had just been talking to a social worker from the school district about the difficulty of finding coats that teenagers will wear — even when they need them. Pre-teen and teenagers are hard. Let’s show them that their community cares by providing them with the tools to be warm, in a way that doesn’t mark them as being different.

Maybe you cleaned out your closet last year. Maybe your kids are waiting until the last two weeks of winter to suddenly outgrow their coat. If you’d still like to give, monetary donations are accepted. One hundred percent of donations designated to The Jack Frost Closet will go toward getting warm gear to those in need. We collect information about what’s needed, and funds donated will go toward buying the sizes we don’t have donated.

Handmade scarves, hats and blankets are all accepted. Snow pants, waterproof gloves and boots are the biggest current needs. Keep an eye on our social media page, as we’ll post an “in-need” for specific sizes and things as we get word from our hard-working community advocates.

For more information about hosting a drop box, volunteering at the store or other ways to donate to the Jack Frost Closet, please contact our office at 507-373-8670. For a complete list of sponsors, drop box locations and items accepted, visit our webpage at http://unitedwayfc.org/jackfrostscloset

Together, we can Live United — and be warm.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.