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Coat Drive

At Building 8 at the Columbia County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Nancy Schaper sorts coats at the half-empty rack for girls coats sized 10 to 12, an area of need for donations to the 13th Coats of Many Colors drive. Volunteers will be collecting donations through Oct. 22 and will distribute them Oct. 27 and 28.

Year after year, Nancy Schaper has seen Portage step up in a big way for the Salvation Army coat drive.

That has to mean most residents understand the need. Right?

“I don’t think so,” said Schaper, coordinator of the 13th annual Coats of Many Colors drive. Many children, especially those in elementary school, aren’t allowed to go outside for recess because they’re not dressed appropriately, she noted. That hasn’t changed.

“This is more of a need now than 13 years ago. And I don’t know why,” Schaper said. “The last thing you need is a child who can’t go outside. The younger kids, they want to be out there playing.”

At the halfway point of the drive — it began Oct. 1 and ends Oct. 22 — Schaper reported that even though she’s pleased with the donations to date, “We could really use more.”

The coat drive is lacking in coats for elementary age students, sizes 6 to 10. “And we can always use boots and snow pants,” Schaper said. “There’s never enough.”

Drop-off locations for the drive include the Portage Public Library Children’s Department, Portage churches, the Portage Police Department and Portage Cleaners. The drive accepts gently used and clean winter coats, sized infant to adult, as well as snow boots and snow pants of all sizes. Workable buttons, zippers and snaps are appreciated, especially for kids sizes.

“I really want to stress winter,” Schaper said Wednesday, standing near a few half-empty racks of coats and some unsorted garbage bags of donated items stored in Building 8 at the Columbia County Fairgrounds. “One of our helpers opened a bag full of dress shirts — we really don’t want that. Those are in my car right now, on the way to St. Vinnie’s.”

Schaper is in her 11th year as coordinator and has helped with the drive for all 13 years.

“I don’t do this alone, by any means,” she said, estimating the drive has so far received help from about 20 volunteers. For years, they have received lots of help from Randy Hinze at the Portage Police Department, the main drop-off point for the drive since the police station is open 24/7.

“Randy calls me, and he always says, ‘The tub runneth over,’” Schaper said with a laugh. The Portage Lions Club recently donated $250 to the coat drive and an undisclosed individual donated $200. The donations have already been spent on boots and snow pants.

“This has a huge impact on people,” she said. “We serve the people who need this, but it’s also a huge plus for the people who donate, for all they do to help others.”

Will this winter to be particularly cold, compared to recent years?

“I haven’t heard a forecast,” Schaper said, “but you never know in Wisconsin.”

Volunteers will distribute coats at Building 8 at the Columbia County Fairgrounds (Superior Street entrance) from 2 to 6 p.m. Oct. 27 and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 28. Parents are encouraged to bring their children with them to try on the coats.

For more information, contact Schaper at 608-742-7242.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter