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AUSTIN EDITION - Business offers added incentive to donate coats

By Nikki Merfeld

*merfeld@postbulletin.com

You don't have to be a magician to turn a coat into a computer. You just need a little luck after you donate to the Salvation Army's coat drive.

Staples Superstore of Austin will give a $900 Hewlett Packard computer and monitor to someone who donates a coat there between now and Dec. 15, said manager Jeff Hicks.

Pat Wright coordinates the coat drive, which runs from October through February. Clean, usable coats of all sizes may be dropped at Staples or Culver's Restaurant, she said.

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She applauded Hicks for becoming involved in the drive, which is especially important this year because of a high number of requests for all types of assistance.

Hicks said the store had already received many coats before announcing the computer giveaway. A large cardboard box near the store's entry has been filled and emptied twice, he said.

Despite that, many people tell him they still have coats at home that they're not using. Without an incentive, the coats don't always end up in the Salvation Army's hands, he said.

"We're just trying to create some urgency and have some fun. The program goes through February, but it's cold out now," said Hicks.

The computer to be given away is top of the line, he said.

"Without getting technical, it cranks," Hicks said. "It's one of the best systems we carry."

It has a 60-gigabyte hard drive and a CD-burner.

The drawing will be conducted at 5 p.m. Dec. 15, he said.

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Caring Tree

Another Salvation Army project, the Caring Tree in Oak Park Mall's Center Court, bears the names of Austin children whose parents need help with Christmas, said Wright.

Patrons can choose the name of a child they'd like to help and then use the items listed on the tag as a guide for their gift-buying.

"When I kicked it off, there were 585 kids on it, but there's a ton more on it. You cannot believe the increase," she said. "We're trying to get the names on the tree as soon as we can."

Families have until Tuesday to register their names with the Caring Tree project. Those choosing names off the tree have until Dec. 16 to return gifts to the tree for distribution to families, said Wright.

The agency distributed about 75 more Thanksgiving baskets than last year and has received requests for 310 Christmas baskets, she said.

Recent layoffs are a contributing factor in the Salvation Army's increased requests, she said.

"Loss of employment is a big thing. Usually, if both parents are working, they can't make it if one of them loses their job," said Wright.

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The situation frequently comes full circle.

"Hunger has come into the middle class now," she said. "They help us, and we help them. When they do good, they help us."

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