BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — With dangerously cold weather threatening those who do not have access to heating, volunteers in Beckley are coming together to keep the community safe.
Two warming stations are operating in Beckley throughout the Christmas weekend.
A daytime warming center at St. Stephens Episcopal Church on Virginia Street is available, free of charge, on Friday, December 23, 2022, and Saturday, December 24, 2022, beginning at 8 a.m.
An overnight center, also free of charge, will operate at Beckley Community United Methodist Church on South Heber Street when the temperature dips below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The overnight center hours are from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., according to Pastor Betsy Evans.
Volunteers at Beckley Community UMC reported on Thursday, December 22, 2022, that the faith community in the city operates the warming center in conjunction with United Way of Southern West Virginia, Raleigh County Housing Authority and other organizations.
“In the temperatures we’re expecting over the next few days, somebody’s going to freeze to death, if they can’t get in and get out of the cold,” volunteer Martha Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson, her husband, Ed, and other volunteers set out free clothing and hygiene packs on Thursday morning, in anticipation of the 8 p.m. opening. The pastor set up a coloring and spiritual reading table.
Shortly before midnight, temperatures were still above freezing. Four people had come to the warming center, where a shift of evening volunteers offered coffee, tea, water and snacks.
Cots, provided by Federal Emergency Management Agency, were waiting, with pillows and blankets.
Beckley Fire Department first responders were among the volunteers.
Returning volunteers said a variety of people seek the warming shelter services since United Way of SWV began the effort four years earlier.
“I’ve never seen any children come through,” said volunteer Nicole Asbury. “We have a few dogs, sometimes, more couples than not, and a lot of individuals. We have some people, sometimes into their sixties or seventies come in, who just might not have money to pay a large power bill or who are, again, in housing without power.”
Volunteers said the city’s homeless community often uses the warming center. Charitable organizations and first responders are able to build connections with the city’s homeless, who are often in need of support services. They say trust is hard to build, but it’s done in places like this warming station.
“They feel judged, every day,” said volunteer Chris Asbury. “And I think while we’re here, it’s more of, no questions asked. You stay warm, you stay safe. That’s all there is to it.”