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Giving thanks continues the day after feasts with annual Community Coat Exchange

SALT LAKE CITY — A man riding his bicycle pulled up to Pioneer Park on Friday morning. He was bundled up in a dirty coat and had a beanie under his University of Utah cap.

Behind him in a basket were his two dogs, Diamond and Soks, who were also wearing little dog coats. Behind the dogs, a cart pulled his two children snuggled together under a pile of blankets.

They were on their way to meet the children's mother when they saw the piles of coats stacked on tables and even more hanging on the fence.

"I saw everything set up, and I thought, 'Oh, we'll stop,'" Rivers said. "Because (the kids) can always use clothes and warm stuff."

Organizers of the 10th annual Community Coat Exchange approached Rivers and his 4-year-old son, Todd Jr. Dickerman, and his 2-year-old daughter, Lakota Beal.

One organizer put a bright pink coat, the hood trimmed in fur, around Lakota's shoulders. Rivers helped her take off her old coat, and put on the new one.

"Oh, it's phenomenal. It's phenomenal," Rivers said of the event.

Each year on the day after Thanksgiving, new and used donated coats are given to anyone in need of warmth and comfort.

"There's no questions asked," said Deanna Taylor, organizer of the event. "If they want to exchange something for something that they have, they can do that. Or if they just want to come and get something, that's fine too."

Everyone is welcome to get a coat.

Rivers picked out a pristine gray snow jacket with red trim. A organizer pointed out a green Columbia jacket for Todd Jr.

"This is great. This is super, super warm," Rivers said of his new jacket.

Taylor said there were about 250 to 300 coats at the park Friday, and she expected to see 50 people stop by.

"Everybody's really friendly, and they're grateful for the items we're able to put out," Taylor said. "It's just something we do every year. We're committed to doing this every year."

Lakota and Todd Jr. made their way to a table with homemade scarves and hats. They were made and donated by a student who attends one of the community partner schools.

Rivers helped Lakota put on her new pink hat to match her jacket. Todd Jr. slipped on a blue one.

The kids decided to pick out a jacket for their mom as well. An orgnizer held up a puffy black coat. Lakota ran to it, flung her arms around it in a giant hug, signaling that it was just the one.

"Can you say thank you?" Rivers coaxed his children.

He expressed his gratitude for the organizers and the event.

"It's such a nice thing for people to go out of their way," Rivers said. "If it wasn't for people, if it wasn't for the shelters and stuff and generous people helping out, it would be really hard. There'd be so many people that wouldn't survive the winter."

Taylor said there are several reasons for holding the event the day after Thanksgiving.

"One of the big reasons is to help people think about their consumerism, especially on a day when people shop a lot," she said.

Along with that, Taylor said they hope to promote reducing, reusing and recycling.

Robert Jorgensen stopped to exchange some of his worn coats for newer, warmer ones.

He picked out a Volcom sweatshirt. Although he wasn't too fond of the pattern, he said the fur inside would keep him warm through the winter.

"We'd all be a little bit colder without them," Jorgensen said of the volunteers Friday. "I'm grateful."

Rhonda Hudson happily tried on coats before settling on a nice black peacoat.

"It's good for the community to come out and get them a nice warm coat, the less fortunate," she said.

Hudson said she's grateful for the coat and said it will keep her warm this winter.

"We are thankful for the people going out of their way and making this organization work and to give to the people that's in need," she said. "I'm thankful for them."

Taylor said all the extra coats not taken will be donated to the Crossroads Urban Center. The Community Coat Exchange is part of a national movement, she said, where other states participate in the giving on the same day.