Four years ago, Christ United Methodist Church recognized a need for coats and other winter clothing in the community.

The Schuyler Ministerial Association responded to this need by creating the Coat Closet, a collection drive that continues today.

The local effort collects winter coats, hats, gloves, scarves, mittens and any other warm clothing for community members who are in need.

Sheri Balak, a volunteer for the project, said the Coat Closet has a specific purpose.

“We know that not everyone in Schuyler is able to get coats when the temperatures drop,” Balak said. “So we just want to make sure we keep Schuyler nice and warm through the winter.”

La Iglesia Principe de Paz and the Schuyler Ministerial Association have been working alongside Christ United to host the Coat Closet since its start.

“There has been a huge community effort with this,” Balak said. “I know the hospital has a collection box, and the Lutheran and Catholic churches are accepting donations through the season. We all just want everyone to be comfortable and warm.”

Coat Closet volunteer Eleanor Pacas said she's already seen an uptick in donations this year.

“Pastor Denny (Wheeler) has only been with us for a year, but he has really helped us to get a lot of coats,” Pacas said. “There are so many more coats than last year. We’re going to get more as time passes, I just know it. The United Methodist Women donated $200 to us. We can get about 10 coats with that.”

The Coat Closet, located at 1922 Colfax St., is open through Jan. 31, or as long as donations last. Hours are 9-11 a.m. Mondays, 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4-6 p.m. Wednesdays and 1-3 p.m. Fridays.

Another important mission during the holiday season is ensuring local families have enough food.

The Schuyler Food and Toy Drive helps in that area.

When Saul Soltero served as a diversion officer in Colfax County, he saw firsthand how many families in Schuyler did not have sufficient food.

Soltero partnered with the Colfax County Attorney's Office to start the annual project, which is in its eighth year.

“Our biggest concern is the kids,” said Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl, who helps run the food and toy drive along with Soltero and her staff. “Many of our residents are working, single parents who don’t have the money for food for their children. When kids are in school, they are fed sometimes three times per day during the school year, but they may not get much to eat when they are home. Christmas break is the longest time school doesn’t serve food.”

Kracl recognizes the high poverty rate in Schuyler and works to keep donations and resources available, especially around the holidays.

The week before Christmas is when the food and toy drive is set in motion. A team of volunteers comes together to deliver food, toys and hygiene products to area families in need.

“In order for a family to qualify for this food and toy drive, a professional in the community needs to have contact with these individuals in order to assess that there is a significant need,” Kracl said. “This can be a police officer, probation officer, diversion officer, Health and Human Services workers, too. These workers must have been in the home and recognized and certified that the need for food and other products is significant.”

Last year, the food and toy drive delivered items to 34 families and 117 children up to age 18.

While food, toys and hygiene items are welcomed as donations, money is also accepted. Monetary donations are used to buy food in bulk and other items. Kracl said the most important food items are those that children can prepare for themselves while their parents are at work.

Nonperishable food, toys, hygiene products and other items can be donated to the Colfax County Attorney’s Office at 412 E. 11th St. before Dec. 20.

Every donated item, except for food, will be wrapped in decorative Christmas paper before being delivered. Each child will receive a stocking filled with goodies and every family member gets their own gift.

“The least I can do is make someone’s Christmas better,” Kracl said.

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