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Trinity UMC coat distribution has Great Bend covered
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Volunteers visit with customers at Trinity UMC’s annual coat distribution event Saturday morning. - photo by Veronica Coons

This weekend’s shift from hot to colder weather had many heading to their closets to dig out coats. For those in need of a new coat, members of Great Bend’s Trinity United Methodist Church were ready. For weeks they have been busy collecting, cleaning and preparing for their annual coat give away Saturday morning. 

At 8 a.m.,  Trinity UMC volunteers welcomed the public into their fellowship hall filled with racks of colorful coats and jackets in all sizes. For several years, the church has made it their mission to ensure a warm coat is not out of reach for any person in the community. Best of all, the coats are free for all, no questions asked. 

“We thought it was a need the community had,” said Karla Essmiller. She’s been involved with the Trinity coat mission every year from its beginning. “It’s been a good thing every year.” 

Saturday morning, bright and early, customers eagerly browsed the racks, choosing coats for themselves. and their children. Some collected several coats for family members unable to attend. In addition to coats, there was a table filled with assorted hats, scarves, gloves and sweaters. Volunteers visited with people, provided oversized bags, and kept the coffee pot and a basket of oranges handy. Crayons and coloring books were available to keep children busy as their parents shopped. Throughout the morning waves of five to ten people at a time came and went, entering the doors with hopeful expressions, and thanking the volunteers on their way out, a new coat or coats in hand. 

Ministry is far reaching,  but depends on local effort

Each August, members of the church spread the word, urging people to clean out their closets and donate gently used coats. On average, the drive results in the collection of 400 to 500 coats, Essmiller said. Of those, they distribute around 300 each year. 

“One year, we had nearly 1,000 coats, and we gave nearly 700 out,” she remembers.

Master Cleaners of Great Bend professionally cleans the coats and returns them to Trinity UMC, where volunteers sort them by size. While the coats are by-and-large gently used, some coats still have tags on them, Essmiller said. 

“There are usually some team coats, like Kansas City, KU or KSU,” she said. “This year there were two real fur coats. You never know what you’ll find, a little of everything.” 

Trinity UMC has been matching coats with new owners this way since 2011. In those eight years, Essmiller estimates around 2,500 coats have been distributed to area residents and through local organizations, including Rosewood Services and Sunflower Diversified Services. 

Early on, what to do with the coats that remained at the end of the day was a dilemma. Organizations like the Salvation Army and the Dream Center graciously accepted them. 

“Buzz Birney with Live Like Jesus Today called us about five years ago and asked what we do with the coats left over. It was a godsend,” Esmiller said. 

That cooperating ministry picks up the coats to distribute to the homeless in its service area, she said.