Cottage Grove couple's 'Coats of Kindness' expands in third year
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.
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.
8855 Inwood Ave.
Werner Electric Supply
7450 95th St.
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.
7584 80th St. S.
8700 East Point Douglas Road
LaPooch Pet Grooming Salon
8599 West Point Douglas Road, Suite 800
All Saints Lutheran Church
8100 Belden Blvd.
2175 Radio Drive
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
5900 Woodbury Drive
5 Oaks Community Church
4416 Radio Drive