COLUMBIA — Chloe Hernandez left her jacket behind at the Armory Sports & Recreation Center after cheerleading practice this week. With cooler temperatures approaching, this posed a problem.
"I was mad at her for leaving her coat," said Christella Martinez, Hernandez's mother. But when they returned to the Armory to look for the coat Saturday, they ended up finding a different one to take home with them.
Saturday, the Voluntary Action Center hosted its eighth annual Warm Up Columbia event, a coat and blanket drive for people in need in the community.
Hundreds of people, mostly clad in thin sweatshirts, waited in the brisk October air Saturday to search through the piles of new and used winter gear donated by churches, companies and individuals in Columbia.
Each year, the center collects and distributes between 3,000 and 4,000 coats and blankets, as well as hats, gloves and scarves, said Ron Schmidt, project director for the center. This year, collections ran from August until mid-October and were located at about 20 different churches, eight Commerce Bank branch locations and other sites throughout Columbia.
"We've never had so many donations," Schmidt said.
He said any leftover coats or winter gear will be donated to other Columbia agencies — such as Rainbow House, True North or McCambridge Center — which will also distribute them to people in need throughout the season.
This marked the first year VAC had help from a sponsor during its drive. D&H Drugstore helped defer administrative costs, such as renting trucks, buying gas and leasing a storage unit, Schmidt said.
"It allows us to use our funds for clients, what our money is supposed to be used for," he said.
Schmidt said it might seem early to start suiting up for winter, but he wants to make sure Columbia's low-income and homeless citizens are prepared to face November and December's cold temperatures.
"If you're sleeping outside, winter is already here," he said.
Supervising editor is Alison Matas.