OXFORD — With temperatures plunging far below freezing and expected to stay there until the end of the week, coats are flying off the racks in Oxford’s nonprofit Coat Room faster than volunteers can replace them.

The Coat Room, which has been providing free winter outerwear to needy Oxford Hills residents for more than 20 years, urgently needs donations, especially of children’s outerwear, director Wendy Williams said Wednesday at the store’s location in the Oxford Shopping Center on Main Street.

The program, part of the local Rightstart nonprofit, allows anyone who comes through the door to leave with a warm winter coat, as well as gloves, hats, boots, socks, scarves and other winter gear, Williams said.

There are no eligibility requirements and clients don’t need to provide any identification or fill out an application to take an item, Williams explained.

Donations of new or used winter gear can be dropped off at Hannaford supermarket in Oxford. Norway Cleaners collects and cleans the garments before they are delivered to the Oxford location. 

Three years ago, the Coat Room had so many donations that shoppers were encouraged to take two coats, Williams said. Now the free shop has to limit shoppers to one item apiece in order to maintain a stable inventory.

Although donations have declined, need hasn’t — the coat room gave away 1,200 coats last year, according to Williams’ records.

Eighty-five coats were given away just last week, said Sam O’Connor, a high school senior from Oxford who is volunteering with the coat room as part of his senior project.

“Last week was crazy,” he said. “People were trying to grab coats out of the bags before we even had a chance to put them on the racks.”

It was quieter on Wednesday afternoon, but a steady stream of people came through to browse through the shop’s racks. Carlene Hall, who was walking out with a new jacket for herself, said she comes to the Coat Room every year to get new winter gear for herself and her grandson.

“This is very much needed,” Hall said. “Times are hard, and a lot of people can’t afford to dress their kids.”

The Coat Room is open every Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. through April. Donations can be made at Hannaford or Norway Cleaners. For more information about how to donate, contact Wendy Williams at 527-2351.

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