The International Programs Office received two donations this fall for its IPO Winter Closet — a space dedicated to storing winter gear collected for international students — that have helped to make up for a shortage of coats.
Kelsey Thomas, the IPO assistant director of customized programs and an employee at the Great Outdoor Store, facilitated a donation of about 35 coats from the Great Outdoor Store to Augustana this past fall.
Additionally, First Interstate Bank donated $1,000 to the IPO staff to buy new winter gear for international students. This donation was guided by Christie Aberson, the bank’s vice president of private banking and an Augustana alumna.
According to Heather Reed, the assistant director for international programs, First Interstate Bank was the first ever large monetary donation to the IPO Winter Closet. All previous donations have been tangible items, such as coats, gloves and hats.
IPO director Ben Iverson said that the closet has been active for over a decade. Most items are donated by Sioux Falls community members, Augustana faculty and staff, and graduating students. International students are welcome to take items from the closet as needed.
“People used to drop off donations of various things for international students once in a while, jackets, bikes, other things,” Iverson said. “It happened organically. As our student numbers grew, we saw the need and started asking for donations of coats specifically.”
As international student enrollment has increased, the project has needed to expand. International student numbers began to rise during the 2006-2007 academic year.
This year, Augustana’s international student body represents 50 countries. Ninety-eight new international students attended Augustana in the fall semester. This is the first year the IPO has run out of coats, according to Reed.
Twice a year, Iverson sends out a request for items to all faculty and staff members, asking for donations. Sharon Heap, the accounting manager for the business office, has been donating items since the first time she heard about it.
“We went through the kids’ stuff when they were in high school and would donate whatever they grew out of,” Heap said. “Now that they’ve both moved out and left some of their stuff here that they no longer wanted, that was a huge donation for me.”
Heap also knits and crochets in her free time, making hats, gloves and scarves for international students with any extra material. She also sometimes creates blankets to donate.
Before making the trek from their home country to the Midwest, Augustana international students are given a list of necessities to pack, such as proper documentation, appropriate clothing for the change of weather and useful day-to-day items. While on campus, students are reminded of the open accessibility to these items provided by the office in weekly emails.
Reed said she didn’t think it was really possible to prepare international students for the culture shock of South Dakota winters.
“We let them know that we have a true winter here,” Reed said. “It’s just something you can’t prepare people for until they experience it. We definitely tell them they need warm clothing. Beyond that, you just experience a new place.”
Iverson said the Sioux Falls community is always looking for the best ways to welcome international students to Augustana or Sioux Falls, but they struggle with knowing how to do so. Many have found that donating is the best way to help people.
Heap said she thinks it’s important to take care of international students as a part of the Sioux Falls community.
“I always put myself in the place of a parent,” Heap said. “I would want a parent there to help like they would their own kid.”
Donations should be brought to the International Programs Office, which is located on the first floor of the administration building.