Grand Rapids UMC’s ‘open-door coat rack’ provides winter gear for 1,200

December 02, 2013

Church: Grand Rapids UMC

District: North Star

Submitted by: Lou Becicka

Every October for the last six years, Lou Becicka, a member of Grand Rapids United Methodist Church, has organized volunteers from 23 area churches to sort, set up, and contribute in other ways to the church’s coat rack ministry, which provides winter coats to those in need.

The “Open Door Coat Rack” serves those from Big Fork to Hill City and from Deer River to Nashwauk—meaning that it covers most of Itasca County. The number of people served each year has ranged from 970 to more than 1,100—and this year’s distribution broke the record, having served 1,211 individuals from communities in the area.

Two weeks before the coat rack is set to open, parishioners from the area churches bring in new or gently used coats. Volunteers sort the coats, and extras and lighter items go to the Salvation Army and another local organization, Grace House. The coat rack is open for three days—this year, it was Oct. 29-31, and when it opened on the first day, people were lined up outside the door. 

Some twenty-eight volunteers helped out during that first shift. Each guest family received a number, and when its number was called out, a volunteer took the group around the racks to find the appropriate items and sizes for each family member.

Becicka says it takes about 50 or so volunteers to make the event happen—from preparing coffee, to organizing the number system, to making chili for the volunteers and passing out flyers. “It’s a way to get many people involved,” he says.

The church publicizes the event within the community by posting flyers at local shops, the American Legion—anywhere people typically gather. This year, organizers also advertised the coat rack to counseling centers, those with special needs, and those who had recently left jail and would need warm clothing for the winter.

This ecumenical public service ministry has been a huge help in the often-frigid northern Minnesota area.

“It’s really changing lives,” Becicka says. “It’s hard to believe [homelessness] happens in our communities, but it does. We’re blessed to be able to do this.”

Becicka hopes that by telling Grand Rapids UMC’s story of success, other United Methodist churches might be inspired to partner with churches in their areas and launch their own coat racks.

“You can’t go out in Minnesota in the winter if you don’t have the right gear,” Becicka says.

Learn more about Grand Rapids UMC.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058