Action Church first opened as a warming shelter earlier this month when the county felt record-low temperatures in the single digits. Now, with freezing temperatures in the forecast, the church is asking for help from the community for food and supplies.
The church opened back up this week as temperatures once again fell below freezing, and Lead Pastor Gary Lamb said the shelter planned to open every night through next Thursday except Sunday.
The Canton City Council is backing the plan and voted unanimously last week to create a task force to organize warming shelters in the community, with Lamb one of three people appointed to serve.
“We’ve done it four nights over the last two weeks,” Lamb said. “We fed between 250 and 300 people over those four nights.”
Lamb said Action Church will open tonight, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 5 p.m. and serve dinner at about 6:30 p.m.
The church has room for about 50 to 100 people to stay overnight, and Lamb said rooms where families can stay if they need more privacy are available.
“The cold is just bitter right now, so it’s great knowing you had a part in someone getting out of that cold, it’s a great feeling,” Lamb said.
With the help of local churches and businesses, Lamb said the church has been able to provide hot meals to those who came to the shelter, but said the church could use some help with supplies.
“Right now we’re looking for staples like toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, plastic forks and spoons, drinks, breakfast items like Pop-Tarts that won’t go bad, non-perishable things, paper cups and things like that so we can keep them in stock,” Lamb said. “What’s happening is, an organization will say ‘We can bring a hot meal,’ and that’s great, but we’re forgetting all the thousand little things, like plates and forks.”
Lamb said donations can be dropped off at the church, at 271 Marietta Road in Canton, or at the Second Chance thrift store, at 920 Waleska Road in Canton.
The church is also collecting hygiene products for those staying overnight, and Lamb said they could use items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant and feminine products.
Lamb said the task force will help create a formal plan, and hopefully, a database of people who can volunteer or help provide food.
When the task force had its first meeting Wednesday, they decided the church would open as a temporary warming shelter whenever temperatures were expected to fall below 25 degrees, said Canton City Councilman Bill Grant, who was chosen as the council representative for the group.
“The goal is to devise and implement a proactive plan for the future,” Grant said. “We are looking at creating a list of volunteers.”
Grant said the task force is also trying to find a backup plan, in case Action Church is unable to act as the city’s temporary warming shelter.
However, the focus of the task force’s first meeting was shifted from the future to the present, as temperatures were expected to remain below freezing for the next week.
Grant said he brought the idea for a task force to Canton’s City Council after what happened earlier this month.
“A couple weeks ago, we were looking at historic lows. It was colder than it’s been in 40 years, so we reacted to that and the community outpouring was awesome,” Grant said. “Action Church and different restaurants and food providers, and the police and fire departments, really worked together.”
The task force was created, Grant said, so there would be a process ready in the future for when temperatures fell to dangerous levels.
While the church had hundreds drop in to get warm and eat a hot meal during the four nights it was opened, Lamb said it took some time for residents to warm up to the idea of staying the whole night.
“Normally, what seems to be happening, is they’ll come in for two or three hours, they warm up, then they go back out. We were told that would happen, we were told it takes a while to build trust. But two nights ago, we had one guy stay the night, and yesterday, we had two guys stay,” Lamb said Thursday. “It’s a great feeling, that’s what you hope to do. You’re glad to know they’re finally trusting you enough to do that.”