Salt Lake City — More than 700 brand new coats were handed out Saturday to children in need across Utah.
The Knights of Columbus and Catholic Community Services began distributing collected coats at Christmastime three years ago during the economic downturn as a way to serve families in need. When they began their efforts, they handed out only 150 coats. Last year the number grew to 200. This year, however, that number topped 700 coats.
The volunteers carefully selected coats for each child and then helped them zip the zippers and roll the sleeves when they were just a little too long.
Piles of gloves and hats — many of which were handmade — were laid across tables, waiting for children to snatch them up.
Some parents say this is the only gift their child will receive for the holiday season.
"My boy wouldn't have a nice warm coat without this," said Wanda Bagley, a mother of one child recipient.
Bagley isn't alone. Group coordinators say the need for coats and other services continues to grow.
"We've seen an increase in just about everything we do here," said Dennis Kelsch, of Catholic Community Services. "The food pantry numbers have gone up. The dining room, the evening room, the lunch meals have gone up, so these kinds of services are well in demand."
The coats will keep the children warm this winter, but more than that, they will help them and their parents remember the community of which they are a part.
"We got a beautiful coat, and a beautiful hat and a pair of gloves, and special box — we don't know what's in it yet. But more than that we got a piece of the community that lets us know we're wanted and needed in the community. It's just going to be a humble, humble holiday this year."
According to the charity, they have served 200 to 300 more individuals every day in recent months than previously. Many are parents with their children.
About 100 families in Salt Lake City alone received coats through the giveaway.