As the temperatures dip and with winter weather in the forecast, the Martinsville-Henry County Warming Center increases its activity to provide the area’s homeless population with a warm and safe place to sleep during the winter months.
The National Weather Service in Blacksburg predicted low temperatures of 22 to 25, with a snow and sleet mixture on Friday that transitions to a wintry mix on Saturday.
Alisha Waller, the center’s coordinator, said the agency that is located in the Salvation Army building in Martinsville is open if it’s 40 degrees Celsius or below at night.
The center opened for the season on October 31 and will remain open through May 15. Guests can check in at the center from 7-10 p.m. and must leave by 8 a.m. There are smoke breaks for guests at 1 a.m., 3 a.m., and 5 a.m.
Guests know whether the center is open when the white flag outside is raised.
“We’re here if they need us. It’s a safe place, it’s warm, we provide a meal every night, and we also have resources,” she said.
Waller said the center has some regular guests that come every night or almost every night.
“We can hold up to 30 people, but here lately it’s been about 18-20 per night,” she said.
Center volunteer Nancy McMillan said men and women sleep in different quarters. The center averages 23-25 guests each night.
“Normally, what she (Ariel Johnson) does, and she did last year and the years before she usually puts them in a motel if they have children. Because we don’t know the background of everybody here, just for their safety,” she said.
McMillan said more men than women use the center. “We’ve been averaging probably 15 or 16 men a night,” she said.
If extra cots are needed, volunteers can grab them from the linen closet in the women’s room.
Besides the sleeping area, the men’s room includes a small dining area, a makeshift kitchen, and a table for guests to be served dinner and breakfast.
McMillan said the meals are brought in from the community.
“They get like BBQ chicken legs, spaghetti, meatloaf, they get pizza a lot. People sign up to bring them meals,” she said. “We tell the people out in the community when they bring food to bring enough for 30 people because some of them like seconds. Almost all of them eat seconds.”
Waller said people and businesses can sign up to bring food for guests by visiting the center’s website at www.warmingcentermhc.org.
“All you have to do is click on it, and it kind of gives you the steps and you sign up that way. If you have any questions or concerns, you can also contact us, and we can do it for you because I know some people aren’t the greatest at doing everything online,” Waller said.
In the makeshift kitchen, guests get access to a snack table during the night. Before they leave, they are given snacks to eat during the daytime. Frozen breakfast items are kept in the upstairs area.
McMillan said there are lockers available in the lobby area if guests wish to store their belongings overnight.
Men and women also have separate bathrooms.
“They don’t have a shower, but many of them do wash off,” she said.
McMillan said when guests check in for the first time, they are given tote bags filled with a hygiene kit that includes deodorant, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, a washcloth, snacks, and other necessary items. Guests also receive a small booklet that details other community resources.
“And then we ask them every night when they come in what they need. Some will say toothpaste, or you know, different things,” she said.
In the mornings, McMillan said mittens, hand warmers, socks, blankets, and other items are distributed to guests.
“We go through a lot of hot hands. They can put them in their socks too to keep them warm,” she said.
McMillan said all of the items are donated by the community.
Johnson “usually puts it on Facebook, what we need and what we’re asking for. Like right, now we need jackets for them and jeans too,” she said.
Waller said the center can also always use coats, hats, gloves, and hand warmers, “because we do provide a meal every night, but the paper plates, the paper cups, and the utensils go fast, and the paper towels cause again, they’re using that stuff every day.”
Those wanting to donate can drop items off at the center after 5:30 p.m. Donations also are accepted at Bo Knows Wireless, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays; at Luna Moth Tattoo Studio, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; at First Baptist Church of Martinsville, Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday at Spencer Group Real Estate & Auction.
Checks can be made out to the MHC Warning Center, and mailed to P.O. Box 3449, Martinsville, VA 24115.
For more information, visit www.warmingcentermhc.org or call (276) 208-9660.