People lined up before the sun rose Saturday for the first shot at winter clothing at the annual St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores' coat giveaway in Omaha.
Among them was 11-year-old Keonta'e Scales, who selected a Cleveland Browns jacket, among other stuff. Asked if he was a Browns fan, Keonta'e said he prefers the Dallas Cowboys.
“I don't mind,” he said of wearing a Browns coat. “As long as it keeps me comfortable.”
Louis Wright, general manager of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores in Omaha, said 4,400 people acquired winter clothing at the event last year, and he expected more on Saturday. The morning weather was pleasant — sunny and about 50 degrees — and the economy isn't significantly better than it was last year, he said. His organization has provided the coat giveaway day for nine years now.
No person had to prove need. Willingness to wait in a long queue to benefit from the generosity of strangers was evidence enough.
“This is about serving the community at large in a time of need,” Wright said.
The event took place in the warehouse of the store near 21st and Leavenworth Streets. It's well organized, and people entered only two, three or four at a time. But the warehouse was still congested with people, while dozens of others waited in a line that wrapped around the corner of the building and down Leavenworth.
Wright said much of the clothing is donated by Catholic parishes throughout the Omaha area, although contributions come from numerous people and places. About 150 people volunteered to help, he said, doing things like escorting people through the bins.
Two women with bags of items thanked and hugged volunteers Mary Ellen Dasovich and Kelly Dineen in the alley outside the warehouse.
“I'm a hugger,” Dasovich said. “I'm at fault.”
Edith Ozuna pushed one daughter along in a stroller and led two other daughters, 5 and 6 years old, through the racks of coats and tables piled with gloves, boots, scarves and hats.
Ozuna, of Omaha, used the service last year, too.
“It helps everybody,” Ozuna said. “It helped me a lot.”
At the end of the journey through the warehouse were Tootsie Rolls and stuffed toys for the kids. And, in some cases, hugs.