With brutally cold temperatures settling in the city, St. Luke's Episcopal Church at 228 Spring St. once again opened its doors to serve as a warming center for those in need of a place to escape the frigid air.
The church made the decision late last week to open its doors at 2 p.m. Monday, but the Rev. C.B. Baker of St. Luke's said that people were already lined up to get in when he arrived at 12:30 p.m. Monday. Volunteers served meals to around 50 to 70 individuals Monday evening, and Baker said 29 of them slept at the church overnight.
"What usually happens is the second night the number grows substantially for those who sleep over because they'll try to see if they make it the first night, and then they'll say, 'OK, it really is cold,' so we'll probably have 35 to 40 sleeping here (Tuesday night), would be my guess," Baker said.
Because Jackson House, which provides lunch to the homeless Monday through Saturday, remained closed on Tuesday due to inclement weather, St. Luke's made extra preparations for a larger lunch crowd.
"We spent the morning making 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and put them in a lunch bag with chips and crackers so people could take them out of here. The Jackson House regulars, we did what they were used to," Baker said. "We also served chili dogs and chips and cake and cookies and fruit and all that, and they were welcome to that, and then they could take a bag of food with them, too, if they wanted. Nobody leaves out of here hungry unless they want to."
Baker said the one word he has been using to describe the donation and volunteer turnout for this winter weather event is "incredible." From community members spreading the word on social media about the church's need for donations to volunteers stepping up to serve food or work overnight shifts at the warming center, he said the community has shown up in a huge way.
Though it has proved difficult in the past to find volunteers to work the overnight shifts, Baker said they have that shift covered every night this week, plus a deputy sheriff who stays from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day for security purposes.
"Again, incredible is the word I want to use. Our own people have been donating and then people I don't even know, they bring coats and blankets and food and we never say no, because you can never have too much. What we do is, we have so many clothes we just put them out a little bit at a time so that people don't get more things than they need right away. We're in good shape; we've got a room kind of off the back side here full of sleeping bags and blankets and coats," Baker said.
He added that everyone who visits the church asks for winter gloves, so they put out a call for gloves two weeks ago and still didn't have enough. This time around, the call for gloves produced more than enough for everyone.
"What makes us different, and the reason why so many folks come to us, is that we don't make them leave. We have volunteers here 24 hours per day for four days and three nights. It's still very cold out, so they hang around all day. That takes a lot of volunteers but we're able to pull it off because people believe in this and they care about it."
Baker added that they will continue to watch the weather and currently plan to serve as a warming center through breakfast on Thursday.Local on 01/17/2018