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Donor sends fur coat to Salvation Army

Kimberly Wagner displays a mink coat that was donated to the Salvation Army in Fargo by a woman in Arizona. The charity organization plans to sell the coat in order to buy several coats to donate. (Dave Wallis / Forum News Service )

FARGO — Just in time for last week’s rash of severely low temperatures, described as an “Arctic front,” one out-of-state donor surprised the Salvation Army of Fargo with a warm-hearted gift.

On Jan. 2, the city’s Salvation Army headquarters received an inquiry from a woman in Arizona who wanted to donate her mink fur coat.

“To be honest, I was really shocked that someone wanted to send a fur coat,” said Tai Clark, family services director at the Salvation Army. “It’s such a luxurious item for someone to mail to us.”

The coat’s donor, Rita Fjelseth, said the balmy climate of her home in Oro Valley left her with little use for a fur coat.

“I enjoyed wearing it when I lived on the East Coast, but in Arizona we don’t use them,” she said. “I looked at it in the closet and thought, ‘Why is this here?’”

Fjelseth, the mother of three adopted children and longtime volunteer at crisis centers sheltering infants, hoped to put her coat to use helping babies and young children.

Although she’s never been to Fargo, Fjelseth felt sympathy for children enduring the area’s cold weather.

“I looked at my map and thought, ‘What is north and cold?’ I hear a lot about Fargo and the oil production and I thought they might be cold up there,” she said. “I was just thinking those little babies must be so cold, maybe my coat would keep them warm.”

While Fjelseth originally donated the coat for the use of a child, Elaine Medlock, a major with the Salvation Army, realized they could help more children by auctioning the coat.

“My thinking was, if you gave it to somebody for their child, first of all, what do kids do with coats? (A child) that could be wrapped up in that would probably spit up on it,” Medlock said. “If we sold it, we could buy multiple warm things for babies and children. So, I contacted her and said, ‘This is what we’d like to do, are you OK with that?’ She said, ‘Absolutely.’”

The price of coats similar to the one donated by Fjelseth typically range from $300 to $500 online, but Medlock said they’re still working out an estimate for the coat’s worth.

“First, I looked for a furrier, and there wasn’t one. So, my guess is maybe pawn shops, or you can go online to look and get a guideline,” Medlock said. “When we ran a thrift store, we would sometimes get people’s fur coats and we would just sell them in the thrift store. But, this one looks like it’s in excellent condition.”

Medlock predicted the coat will bring in enough money to buy at least 10 children’s coats.