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IC kids provide coats for families in need

BY ERIC MOORE | DECEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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The need for winter clothes typically grows as cold weather moves in, and a local family resource specialist says demand from families in need is greater than usual this year.

Kris Mowatt, who works closely with students and families at Hills Elementary, said the number of families with requests for winter clothing is "definitely higher" this holiday season.

"I would say I'm getting a little more than normal this year, and that may be because families are just more in need or they see me fulfilling more needs so more families are just asking," Mowatt said.

She said her goal to ensure all "have what they need for the winter" has been greatly aided this year by a new coat drive initiated by Longfellow Elementary teacher Paula Rocca.

Rocca, who teaches third and fourth grade, got her class to take part in "Coats of Kindness," an organization started in Minnesota last year, which aims to deliver coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and snow pants to families in need in local communities.

After hearing about the success of the initial project in Minnesota — in which 450 coats were collected during the first year — Rocca decided to involve her third- and fourth-grade students this year.

"They're very excited about it," Rocca said. "… every day, the kids walk in the doorway, and there are piles of coats or hats lying in our entryway that people have donated."

Longfellow community. They also created ads that were posted on their Facebook page.

Her students organize, count, and box up coats and other winter clothing from piles near the back of the classroom, keeping track of how many items they've collected with a colorful graph extending up one of the classroom walls. Though many of the items will end up at Hills, some will be donated to other local charities.

Similar projects have been done before, but Rocca said this one has proven more successful in getting students and families involved.

"This one has the biggest effect because it's helping students in the Iowa City School District of similar ages to the ones in my class," Rocca said. "Often, you kind of have a disconnect when you do a project like this, but they know that some other 9-year-old is warm because of something they did."

The drive, which will end Friday, had collected 330 items Wednesday, breaking their thrice-increased goal of 300.

When Rocca announced the total to the class, she was met with excited cheers and smiles from her students. Several students began submitting more ideas on how to make it to 400 items before Friday.

Rocca's class is only the second group to participate in Coats of Kindness.

Eric Wenzel, who works as a financial planner in Minnesota, started the organization after having his local church and community exhibit an "outpouring of support" for him during his three-year battle with cancer.

When Wenzel's church offered $50 for anyone working toward a "pay-it-forward," type of project, he and his family decided to start a project to help the community that had helped them.

"We thought, 'Hey it's cold out right now, let's do a coat drive,' " Wenzel said. "At the end of the year, we sat down as a family again and said, 'Do we want to make that bigger? They said let's do this, let's form a board, let's try make this bigger.' So we did."

The organization now has 10 board members and is awaiting approval from the IRS to become tax-deductible, Wenzel said. The members' goal is to become a national organization, possibly by partnering with the Big Ten.

"It's important for people to look around, and try to pick up their neighbor or people in their community, and give back what they can," Rocca said. "We're really excited to get this going, and you know, maybe next year we'll get a drop box down at the UI."


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