WHITING — If you think you're cold, imagine going outside without a winter coat. One local business is doing its part to make sure that does not happen.

Kathleen Ulm, co-owner of the Junkyard Store at 1504 119th St., said she and fellow owner Keely Schalk started collecting coats about five years ago that were given to the city for distribution through its food pantry.

But the city didn't have enough space for all the coats collected, so this year the store teamed up with Whiting Baptist Church to be its distribution partner.

The store accepts new and used coats for children and adults.

"We get a lot of people who donate brand new kids' jackets," Ulm said. "This year, we've gotten a lot of new coats from people that have an allotment from their work to buy coats for a charity."

The store, which started collecting coats in October, will continue receiving them through the end of January.

"The people are very, very generous, and I know a lot of the families in town are using them," Ulm said.

She said the store collects well more than 200 coats each year, but she can't remember exactly how the project started.

Ulm thinks it likely was the brainchild of Schalk, whose late brother was homeless.

This year Junkyard also collected new hats, scarves and gloves for a group called Warm Hands & Toasty Tootsies, so it could give out care packages to the homeless in Chicago at Christmastime.

Ulm requests that Whiting and Robertsdale residents continue to drop off coats at the store, but that others bring coats directly to the church at 1547 119th St. so the store is not overwhelmed with deliveries.

Coats brought to Junkyard are picked up by Whiting resident Patti Herbst, who delivers them to the church.

She then sorts them with her mother, Jeanni Wilkening, who manages the food pantry at the church.

Free-for-all grows

People may have noticed Herbst's handiwork in the downtown area this fall and winter as she kicked off her own campaign to keep people warm.

Starting in November, Herbst began tying scarves, hats and gloves she and her mother purchased to light poles on downtown 119th Street, with notes telling people to take the clothing as needed.

She also tied items on a fence near Nathan Hale Elementary School so kids walking to school could grab what they needed.

Herbst had seen in the news that a town in Illinois had done a similar project, and she thought it would be nice for not only those less fortunate but also for people who might be walking downtown and in need of extra warmth.

She said the movement has caught on in Whiting — others also have begun to hang items of clothing.

Herbst estimated she has put out about 50 pieces and continues to replenish the clothing supply.

"I figure they're disappearing, so that means people need 'em," Herbst said.

Herbst is a social worker at an elementary school in Dolton, Illinois, where she encouraged students to bring in items, so a similar effort was started there.

She said what she's doing is a simple act, but added that people might decide to "pay it forward."

"I always kind of live by the philosophy 'be the change,'" Herbst said. "You know, it takes one little act and hopefully it spreads."

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