- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) - Despite the lack of snow, it’s beginning to look a little more like Christmas in Lincoln Park.

Gifts for anyone who is cold and in need have been placed under some of the park’s trees — hats, gloves, scarves and sweatshirts — by the group Taking Back Waterloo. The donated items are actually hanging by string from branches, tied onto tree trunks or draped over park benches.

“It’s just all for the taking,” said Candis Rogers, an administrator of the group’s online Facebook page, as several people worked in the cold to place as many as 75 winter wear items in the park last week.

Nicole Schiel, another member of the group, said the items are available “for anybody that needs them, whether they’re homeless or just laid off from work.”

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (https://bit.ly/1QMCVwQ ) reports that some items are individually tied to the trees while others come in bags containing a hat, scarf and gloves. Each item has a tag affixed to it that reads: “I am not lost … you just found me! Take this if you need … but please spread the love with one kind deed.”

Taking Back Waterloo originally formed last spring to help combat a surge in gun violence in the city. Its Facebook page now has more than 9,000 members.

“Basically, our main goal is just getting people to care. That’s one of our main problems,” said Schiel. “Let the community know there are people out there who do care.”

The idea for this latest project was sparked by a suggestion from one of the group’s members. “One of our Facebook followers sent us a picture,” said Rogers, showing a similar project that took place in New York.

She and other group administrators decided to try and organize the giveaway in Waterloo and began seeking donations. “A lot of people came forward and gave us a lot of stuff,” said Rogers. “Leisure Services was kind enough to let us do it, as long as we didn’t nail anything into the trees.”

The first person benefited from the effort before the women were done working.

Jeremy Smoot and his dog, a bullmastiff pitbull mix, approached the volunteers to find out what they were doing. He was invited to pick out a hat and pair of gloves. The Waterloo native had just returned to town after some time away.

“Right now I’m jobless,” he said. “I don’t call myself homeless anymore, I don’t call myself a bum. I call myself a traveling man.”

Smoot appreciated what the Taking Back Waterloo volunteers were doing.

“That’s really cool,” he said. “That helps everybody.”

___

Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, https://www.wcfcourier.com

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