COLUMBIA — The Boone County Voluntary Action Center has been collecting coats, blankets, scarves and other winter clothing since June for its Warm Up Columbia program.
Ron Schmidt, program director at the center, said the program is a partnership between the center, Kathy Hull, Commerce Bank and 20 to 30 local churches that collect donations.
The annual drive provides warm clothing to needy members of the community, especially the homeless and low-income groups.
"It's tough economic times and any time you can save money is crucial," Schmidt said.
The collected items will be distributed from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Oct. 22 at the Armory Sports & Recreation Center, 701 E. Ash St.
All members of the family needing clothing must be present during the distribution and have their Social Security information ready in order to receive any clothing items.
Garments are distributed on a first come, first served basis. Everything is free.
"Toward the end of the day, if there's a lot left over, we'd prefer to give them away than bag it up," Hull said.
The quantity and kinds of clothes distributed will depend on the availability of the donations, organizers said.
Warm Up Columbia began seven years ago under Hull's direction. Hull said she had previously been involved with a Food Bank program and felt a Christian calling to take care of others and provide for those in need.
"We're called to feed God's sheep and clothe each other," Hull said. "I had done the feeding and now it was time to do the clothing."
Hull estimated that Warm Up Columbia has served nearly 2,000 people over its seven-year run. The program serves an average of 300 people each year, a number that Hull said she hopes the program will exceed this year.
"With the economy the way it is, the need of people who are struggling to make ends meet on either one or two salaries continues to grow," Hull said. "The number of people who must make it month to month keeps going up."
Schmidt said the number of people seeking assistance from the program seems to grow each year.
So far, Warm Up Columbia has completely filled one small storage facility, with overflow into another, though Hull said she has seen a significant difference in the amount of goods donated this year.
"People gave less," Hull said. "I really think people are just hanging on to what they have because they don't know what's around the corner with the current economy."
Last year, Warm Up Columbia distributed 3,500 items, Schmidt said.
He said they do not ask people to prove their income level or that they live in Boone County.
"If you're there, we'll help you out," he said.
Over the years, Warm Up Columbia has helped an array of people, and organizers have noticed an increase in the number of immigrants and refugees coming from warmer climates.
"The winter is probably a shock for immigrant families who come from Africa and aren't used to winter weather," Hull said. "Warm Up Columbia is a great way for them to clothe their children and send their kids to school with a warm coat."
The Voluntary Action Center will continue collecting winter clothing until Friday. Those who wish to donate can drop items off at either the Voluntary Action Center, 403A Vandiver Drive, or at any of the city's eight Commerce Bank locations during regular business hours.
Warm Up Columbia accepts coats, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves and other cold weather apparel. Items should be gently used and clean.