Whenever the temperature is 20 degrees or colder overnight, the “A Place of Warmth” shelter at Zion United Church of Christ, 51 W. Central Ave., will be open for homeless men.
“It looks like it’s going to be another 10 days at least, but we’re ready,” said Pastor Jon Peterson.
Last Monday, A Place of Warmth received a $10,000 donation from the Consolidated Electric Cooperative and CoBank’s Sharing Success matching grant program. But that’s not all.
On Thursday, volunteers from the community, other churches and social agencies heard a presentation on how to assist the men who come to the warming center. Special duty officers have also offered their services.
There have also been donations of items such as bedding.
“We’ve had some significant offering in terms of clothes and socks and clean underwear,” Peterson said. “There are things we can do to make them more comfortable in their life situation.”
“The greatest news is that other churches have jumped on board with health kits including soap, combs and toothbrushes, etc.,” wrote church member Marlene L. Hitchcock in an email. “Our church is the base, but help for the homeless men has come from many other churches. We are not alone in this venture — once our members voted on doing it, help poured in.”
A couple of months ago, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to use part of the church as a warming center.
“We searched our hearts, and it was pretty clear to us that this was what our faith requires of us — to welcome all persons,” Peterson said.
Last winter, Delaware City Council began discussing how to temporarily shelter homeless single men during periods of extreme cold. Then-Vice Mayor George Hellinger identified the issue as a top priority for Delaware, and a group of city officials and members of social agencies met through the year on the matter.
Peterson said the idea for the warming center came from congregation member Konrad Young, whose brother runs a similar warming center in Akron.
“We walked through the church and thought of possible areas that might be compatible, and found a part that’s easily accessible and isn’t used by any other group,” Peterson said. “It seemed perfect to each of us. I contacted Hellinger, and it began taking shape.”
Forty-eight hours before a 20-or-below day, notices will be posted that A Place of Warmth will be open. The men will be checked in between 8 and 10 p.m., sleep over, and leave by 8 a.m., before any of Zion’s services. However, they may stay for the service, Peterson said.
Up to 12 men will be able to stay comfortably at the center but, based on surveys taken earlier in the year, eight or nine men would be more likely. However, that figure may be initially lower, due to wariness from men who are used to living on their own.
“As time goes on, word will spread that this is a warm and friendly place and that they are welcome,” Peterson said. “No intimidation, no trying to forces values on anyone.”
Helping the homeless is part of Zion’s faith mission, he said.
“It just felt like a niche that we could help fill. We have so many blessings in this community. The social services in this county is second to none, but this seemed to be the one gap that we hadn’t gotten our hands around. Jesus did say, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me in.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.