ANDERSON — Stacy Ebler haphazardly parked her car in front of the Park Place Community Center before jumping out of the vehicle. She shepherded her three boys into the center.
It was 10:55 a.m. Saturday.
Rushing down the long hallway, Ebler saw several organizers packing up a 6-foot-long table and preparing to end the annual Coats for Caring distribution.
The event, sponsored by Community Hospital Anderson, collects gently used coats, mittens and hats for Madison County residents. About 1,000 people usually show up for the free distribution.
But the Ebler family was too late. The event, which began at 8 a.m., had exhausted its supplies in less than three hours.
Organizers showed Ebler, of Pendleton, the remaining jackets hanging meagerly on two roll-away racks. Most were for preschoolers or adults. Others were only lightweight jackets. Ebler’s shoulders slumped.
Two of her sons, ages 5 and 8, stood before the racks in thin T-shirts. Her oldest son, 10, was wearing a winter coat that appeared to be too small for his frame. It was 45 degrees outside.
“They don’t have any good coats,” Ebler said. “This was the only place I could get coats for them for free.”
“This is the first time we have run out of coats,” said Brandy Hill, marketing and community relations representative for Community Hospital Anderson.
After rummaging through the racks several times, an organizer pulled a lightweight jacket out for Ebler’s 8-year-old, Alex Snelbaker, to try on. The jacket was a little big and the material was too thin, but Ebler tugged on the edges and was grateful at least one of her sons had found a coat.
“I needed one,” Snelbaker said with a grin while proudly modeling his jacket.
The boys were each given hats to help keep warm.
“They are constantly outgrowing their coats,” Ebler said. “But no one has gotten sick, thank God.”