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Perham community gathers coats for families in need

United Way hosted its annual Coats for Kids distribution in Perham at Calvary Lutheran Church on Thursday, Oct. 6.

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United Way of Otter Tail and Wadena Counties Executive Director Summer Hammond stands in Calvary Lutheran Church, where the Coats for Kids Perham distribution took place on Thursday, Oct. 6.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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PERHAM — The season of giving may not be here quite yet, but that hasn't stopped the Perham-area community. United Way hosted its first 2022 Coats for Kids distribution in Perham's Calvary Lutheran Church on Thursday, Oct. 6, where donated coats and other winter supplies were given to area families in need. While the doors originally weren't going to open until 4 p.m., the very first family arrived at 3:15 p.m.

"We've had 42 families that have come in already tonight within, well, an hour and a half," said United Way of Otter Tail and Wadena Counties Executive Director Summer Hammond. "So, 42 families and 180 coats, but that doesn't count the hats and the mittens that were taken and some of the snow pants."

Hammond said United Way's mission is to improve the lives of individuals within Otter Tail and Wadena counties. They do so by making sure everyone who needs help has an equal opportunity to thrive, such as having access to health insurance, income, food, security, school supplies and more.

"We want to just make sure that everybody is on a nice, even playing field," Hammond explained. "(Oct. 6 was) our Coats for Kids distribution night, and so we collected coats throughout Otter Tail County and Wadena County. "

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This photo depicts the large amount of winter gear that was available at the Coats for Kids distribution prior to its opening.
Contributed / United Way

Hammond and United Way set up barrels for donations throughout east Otter Tail County and Wadena County; she also had a few in Fergus Falls. Several organizations even held their own coat collections, where employees donated their winter gear, and their companies would take the donations to United Way. Several anonymous donors in the area also dropped off boxes of new coats. While the event is called "Coats for Kids," United Way collects winter gear for people of all ages.

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For Hammond, who's from New York Mills, seeing her community come together to make such large donations has been incredible.

"It's amazing," she shared. "It really is because there's such a great need out here. You know, we have a lot of people that moved to the area, so they don't understand how cold (it gets). Sometimes, it takes longer for them to find that stuff. And so when we put that call out, the community just comes together. They understand the need, and they just want to help."

When people in need arrived at a distribution night, United Way asked families to sign and state how many coats they need. That way, United Way is able to gauge how many coats are needed. If the distribution site doesn't have any coats or winter supplies left in a specific size, they can make a call out to the community for donations. Then, they can get back into contact with the family in need.

While United Way receives plenty of winter gear donations, they could always use more. Men's coats and boy's coats for ages 10-18 are the toughest to find.

They accept donations year-round, so if you or someone you know is in possession of donatable gear, contact Summer Hammond at 218-770-9406. There will also be a bucket outside of Perham Living for a while, where donors can drop off their coats in a bin located at the entryway.

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Most of the coats and other winter gear were already gone just 90 minutes into the Coats for Kids distribution.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

"It doesn't make sense to have someone be cold; it's just like not feeding somebody who's hungry," Hammond said. "Nobody wins … If you can pass (winter gear) down, give it to another family if it's in good condition. The prices are extremely high. We're here to help; we want to make sure everyone has (a coat)."

United Way recently hosted two other Coats for Kids distributions on Tuesday, Oct. 11 in Wadena and Thursday, Oct. 13 in Henning. While these events have already come to pass, Hammond has some advice for families who may still be in need.

"If they need assistance, give us a call," she advised. "If we can't personally help, we will reach out to our partner programs that we work with to see if they can assist them or put them in the direction to where they can go to get that."

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For more information about United Way, visit their website at unitedway.org or call 703-736-5147. Monetary donations can also be made at these locations. Hammond mentioned that if you specify that a monetary donation is for the Coats for Kids event, then it can be used to buy new clothes and other winter supplies.

If you're interested in volunteering for United Way events, go to unitedway.org/get-involved/volunteer or call 703-736-5147.

Hammond had one final thing to say to the Perham-area community: "Thank you for all your generosity."

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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