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Coats for Kids serve Janesville area families in need

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
October 28, 2011
— Having already found a fur-hooded pink winter coat, pink rain books and a Minnie Mouse stocking hat to match, four-year-old Lili Rodriguez’s ensemble was nearly complete.

“Now lets find a scarf to match,’’ said Cheryl Mitby, Salvation Army Auxiliary volunteer, told her.


Seconds later Lili came running to her mother, Rachel, holding a fluffy, multi-colored scarf.


Such are the tiny victories of families taking part in the Salvation Army Auxiliary’s Coats for Kids program.


The Rodriguez family, which has attended the annual coat distribution for eight years, explained its importance.


“It’s hard trying to get by while working a minimum-wage paying job without benefits. We rely on this every year,” said Rachel, a mother of three.


Janesville’s Cassandra Serfoss also relies on the annual giveaway. With five members of her family either unemployed or on Social Security, the program is critical for staying warm during Wisconsin’s cold winters.


“This is important for families like us who can’t even afford thrift stores because we don’t have the funds,’’ Serfoss said.


Without Coats for Kids “We’d freeze!’’ she said.


A total of 2,592 warm clothing items were donated to this year’s cause. That total included twice as many coats—more than 1,500—as was received last year. Of those donated this year, 500 were brand new.


Another $1,700 in cash donations was used to buy new snow pants and boots.


“All the new things are gone,’’ said Lindi Paull, who co-chairs the event.


Unfortunately, after three months of preparation and more than 1,000 volunteer hours from about 60 auxiliary volunteers, only 131 families showed up for Thursday’s distribution.


“Normally we serve 300 to 400 (families),” said Paull. She worries there wasn’t enough publicity about the new advance registration system implemented this year.


Salvation Army Maj. Ruth Fay said all social services agencies and schools received the necessary notice.


In past years, those in need showed up, waited in line for hours and only needed to provide proof of income. This year, after registering with the Salvation Army, appointments were scheduled to avoid long lines. Proof of residency also was required.


Still, walk-ins were not turned away and none of the donated items will go to waste.


In addition, leftover items were to be donated to the House of Mercy homeless center, the GIFTS homeless men’s shelter, the YWCA’s shelter for domestic violence victims and several Janesville schools. Still more were headed to the Beloit Salvation Army for distribution, and auxiliary members picked some others out to be saved and given away at the Salvation Army during Christmas, Paull said.


Those who got help Thursday were touched by the local goodwill.


“It’s a good, joyful feeling, like when you were a kid,” said Serfoss, who continued to rummage through tables and racks of clothes in search of more items for her family.


“I’m really glad I have this,” she said.



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