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Karen Wenzel at a drop site for "Coats of Kindness." Submitted photo

Cottage Grove couple's 'Coats of Kindness' expands in third year

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Cottage Grove couple's 'Coats of Kindness' expands in third year
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Eric and Karen Wenzel are extending their warmth for the third year with "Coats of Kindness," a campaign to collect new and gently used winter coats and accessories for people who can't afford them.

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Karen, who is in partnership with her husband in Wenzel Financial Services in Cottage Grove, got the idea to collect winter coats, after a service at All Saints Lutheran Church three years ago.

The church was giving out envelopes containing $50. Those who took them were asked to "pay it forward" and use it to help someone.

It was at the end of Eric's trial with colon cancer, which nearly took his life. After one round of chemotherapy and radiation, he was given a short time to live. The couple went to the Mayo Clinic as a last resort. With another long journey of chemotherapy and surgery, he survived.

It was near the end of his second cancer treatment when Karen took the envelope and decided to use the money to collect winter coats.

The first year "was a blur," Karen said in an interview last week. They had a collection box in their office and at Fury Motors and the Park Grove Pet Hospital near the Wenzel office. "Coats of Kindness" collected 450 coats and donated them to Neighborhood House and the Stone Soup Thrift Shop in St. Paul Park.

The second year, the holiday season drive was more organized as the Wenzels officially became a not-for-profit charity with a board of directors. They also accepted cash donations and bought new coats that were heavily discounted. Last year, they collected and donated 2,000 coats and 10,000 winter clothing items.

For this year's effort, Wenzels are stepping it up.

So many agencies and people are asking for coats, Karen said, and there are many more places willing to take the blue "Coats of Kindness" boxes volunteers have painted.

"For all of August and September I felt like I was campaigning," she said.

There are about 41 collection sites this year including Warners' Stellian locations, and YMCAs in Woodbury and Lino Lakes. Boxes are at Woodbury City Hall, public works and the police department. There are a number of Cottage Grove locations as well as boxes throughout the Twin Cities.

Wenzel was also contacted by the Anderson School in Minneapolis asking for coats for students. "I just couldn't stop thinking about it," she said.

Connor Shellenbach, a student, volunteered to run a coat drive at Lake Middle School for Anderson School. His mother, Christie Shellenbach, is collecting coats with the help of the St. Croix Preparatory Academy Honor Society.

There's a general need for more kids' coats, Wenzel said.

"It's awesome when you give," she said, "because you get so much more in return."

For more information, to donate or download a sticker for a collection box, go to coatsofkindness.org/ or visit the Wenzels on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/coats-of-kindness/243449525710244.

The deadline for coats and cash donations is Jan. 12, 2013.

Area Coats of Kindness box locations

St. Paul Park

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 920 Holly Ave.

Cottage Grove

Armstrong Elementary

8855 Inwood Ave.

Werner Electric Supply

7450 95th St.

Wenzel Financial

7584 80th St., Suite 3

Park Grove Pet Hospital

7663 79th St.

City of Cottage Grove

7516 80th St.

Renewal by Andersen

9900 Jamaica Ave. S.

(11/19-12/7)

Curves Fitness

7584 80th St. S.

Yackel Dance

8700 East Point Douglas Road

LaPooch Pet Grooming Salon

8599 West Point Douglas Road, Suite 800

All Saints Lutheran Church

8100 Belden Blvd.

Woodbury

Woodbury YMCA

2175 Radio Drive

Warners' Stellian

1750 Weir Drive

UpLift Guided Fitness

257 Rivertown Drive

Woodbury City Hall

8301 Valley Creek Road

Woodbury Public Safety

2100 Radio Drive

Woodbury Public Works

2301 Tower Drive

Lake Middle School

3133 Pioneer Drive

Eagle Brook Church/ERHS

4200 Pioneer Drive

Crossroads Church

5900 Woodbury Drive

(11/1-11/30)

5 Oaks Community Church

4416 Radio Drive

(11/17-11/25)

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Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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