On Mon., Dec. 2, the temperature in North Mason was below freezing in the day time, and community members became concerned about homeless neighbors freezing to death outdoors, and others with inadequate heating. The weather was to be exceptionally low for an extended time. Since North Mason Resources (NMR) helps the homeless, they were an immediate focus for citizen concern.
NMR Executive Cat Ross put the word out about needs and an avalanche began.
The Theler Board of Directors was contacted about utilizing Theler as a cold-weather shelter, and the directors, along with brand new Executive Scott Stanton, in his first week on the job, heartily agreed, and there was a location to receive people and supplies. Theler, located at 22871Highway 3 in Belfair (across from Belfair Elementary School) is designated by the Red Cross as an emergency shelter during times of community-wide disasters, but cold weather is not one of them. Nevertheless, there were 100 Red Cross cots stored at Theler available for use. The cold weather shelter was in business.
The Community Food Pantry (CFP), housed in NMR, is the designated emergency food coordinator for this area. They called their helpers who boxed up food for dinner: chili, bread, cookies, coffee, cider, plus breakfast items.
NMR had kicked off the coordinated effort with their readerboard, emails and phone calls to churches and other volunteers. That multiplied out on phone trees, email lists, and Facebook pages that were copied and shared over and over. NMR was able to deliver 21 blankets for the first night the shelter was open. For hygienic reasons, blankets, pillows and cots must be washed and dried after each night’s use.
On their first day in operation, volunteers were lined up deeper than clients, and donations were overwhelming. Both Ross and Stanton specifically mentioned the immediate outpouring from the community’s churches, but also the other non-profits and just caring citizens who came in with diapers, cookies, new socks, soap, toilet paper, tooth brushes and tooth paste, paper towels, blankets, pillows, warm coats, boots, board games, and a multitude of other necessities and niceties. “The community really stepped up,” Stanton said. “It has really been fabulous.”
Low temperature in Belfair on Dec. 7, was just 9-degrees. Stanton said it was a cold event unseen in 15 years in this area.
Among the volunteers, according to Stanton, was a woman who had gotten married the day before. She told Stanton that she would be married to her husband for years, but would gladly help neighbors in dire need that evening. “That was really special,” Stanton said.
Among clients was a young woman who came in desperation, having walked from the North Bay area. Volunteers described her as “freezing and starving.” She sobbed for over an hour as they thawed her out. She had a warm meal and slept for several hours. She accepted food to take with her, having been outfitted with appropriate winter outerwear. Theler Board member Bonnie Pope, who helped care for this woman, was quite certain she would not have survived had she not entered Theler when she did.
Another client was 9 months pregnant, one day past her due date. When she did not come back the next day, Stanton indicated his hope was that she was in a warm hospital holding her baby.
The shelter officially opens at 7 pm each evening when the temperature is below freezing, but in reality, it opens when the first person in need shows up. The doors are locked at 10 pm. Clients must sign in, show respect to all, abstain from drugs and alcohol, and bring no weapons. They are awakened at 6 am, clean up their own space, have breakfast, and vacate the center by 8 am.
Volunteers may call the Theler Center at 360-275-4898 or just drop by.
“This outpouring is a testament to how much the citizens of the North Mason area care about rallying together in a crisis,” Ross stated.
Ross drove around that first evening, hoping to persuade homeless clients to come to the shelter. She is aware that the majority of homeless will not take advantage of the shelter, and said NMR is accepting items for cold weather needs at their location, 140 NE SR-300, Belfair, all of which is available to shelter guests and others. They are also accepting monetary gifts for the Theler excess heating bills for this time. Mark such donations “Chill Needs” and mail to NMR, PO Box 2052, Belfair, WA 98528.
Photo, left to right: Mel Coffman and Bonnie Pope, Theler Board of Directors, and Dan Newcomer of the Community Food Pantry. All gladly volunteered time to help folks at the cold-weather shelter at Theler Center in Belfair.
December 9, 2013/Submitted by Linda Thomson, Board of Directors, North Mason Resources