Clothing pantry provides warmth
Jan Leschke has always had the distinct ability to see a need, but she doesn’t let it go there. She dives right in and does something about it. “It just makes me feel good,” she said simply.
Jan has been a Rhinelander resident for more than 40 years, growing up in DePere. She has two children, three grandkids and her husband, Jim, is a retired psychotherapist. Jan supported him while he earned his degree, but mostly she admits to being a full-time volunteer. And she has a hard time pinpointing why. “I don’t know why I want to help others,” she said. “I just see someone that is going without, and I want to help.”
Fours years ago, she saw lots of people going cold during Rhinelander’s long winter. In addition, Jan’s friend, Gale Willcox, told her about a program in an Arizona town where a group distributes clothing to the needy. Jan decided to do something like that right here in Rhinelander.
“When you see a child or an elderly person without a coat, and it’s the middle of winter, you know there’s a need,” she said. “And so we decided to fill that need.”
Jan and Gale started their own grassroots project and called it Warm for Winter. “I think of it as a clothes pantry,” Jan said. “And you can’t say we aren’t doing our part as far as recycling goes.”
Warm for Winter is a simple concept. Take good, used donated winter wear and distribute it among people who need it, at no cost and with no strings attached. The two started Warm for Winter four years ago. “The first year we only did one distribution,” she said. “And we ran out of items.”
The program is under the auspices of the First Congregational Church, and that’s where the first distribution took place in 2007. Now it is done at the Friendly Village Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center.
“We have expanded the program by having more distribution times,” said Jan. “We’ve already had two distributions, one in September and one in October. In September, 342 people came in and in October, 294 came, so there is a need.”
In addition to winter clothing, other items are also needed, particularly comforters, blankets and sleeping bags.
“There are so many people who need warm bedding,” she said. “We could really use that type of stuff.” Other items requested include hats, mittens, boots, pajamas, scarves and boots.
And while there are plenty of people in need, there are also very generous people who are the backbone of the program.
“I would like to thank all the people who donate to the program,” she said. “And all the people who volunteer. They really make it work.”
And as the first snow storm of the winter made its way to Rhinelander last week, Jan hopes those that need warm clothing and those that have warm clothing to donate will come together and help each other out.
“It’s about paying it forward,” she said. “Maybe if we help someone out, they will help someone else out and that can only make the world a better place.”
Editor’s Note: To donate clothing for the Warm for Winter Project, call Jan at (715) 362-7157. Distributions will take place the last Saturday of the next three months, including Nov. 26, Dec. 31 and Jan. 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Friendly Village Nursing Home, 900 Boyce Dr. in Rhinelander.