In the spirit of “neighbors helping neighbors” and “community helping the community,” warming stations opened around Paris for those in the area needing help as severe winter weather blanketed Texas this week.
“I’ve been so overwhelmed with our community’s willingness to help,” James Hanley, with the Lamar Avenue Church of Christ, said.
The church and CitySquare Paris opened warming stations on opposite ends of Paris to help combat the cold as not one, but two below-freezing storm systems sprawled across the area. Anyone who needed to get out of the cold was welcome, and the stations remained opened as the area’s electricity providers issued rolling and controlled blackouts as ordered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The blackouts were necessary to reduce strain on the state’s electric grid, which was already facing generation challenges, ERCOT officials said.
“We had 18 neighbors yesterday and so far today, seven or eight,” said Lara Woodroof, CitySquare Paris program director, Tuesday afternoon. “It’s going well. They were coming here to take a shower and get their laundry done. It’s great. Local businesses have really helped us and stepped up.”
CitySquare Paris is typically open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but because of the weather, it expanded hours to 6 p.m., allowing neighbors — what the organization calls those who receive help at the 2515 Bonham St. center, in accordance with its motto: “neighbors helping neighbors” — more time to take shower or wash laundry if they needed it, to eat, to use Wi-Fi, or even just to grab some coffee or hot chocolate and a warm meal. The church’s warming station was open 24 hours, allowing those with no place to go a warm bed for the night. They’ve been feeding three light meals each day, according to Hanley, and have broken out the dominoes and checkers to keep everyone entertained.
Local businesses and individuals have helped carry the load as well, Hanley and Woodroof said, with the newly-opened Chick-fil-A donating chicken sandwiches to both warming stations, and Paris Coffee Co. providing coffee for CitySquare on Monday. Other businesses have brought food to the church, according to Hanley, including Street Eats and James Hodge Dodge.
Michael Ocanas was recently released from mental health services and said he didn’t have a place to stay except his vehicle, which doesn’t have heat, so he’s been spending his days at CitySquare and his nights at the church.
“I don’t have a place to live right now, and MHMR set me up here,” Ocanas said. “It’s a blessing to have these places open for people like us, who don’t have a place to go.”
He’s been looking for a place to live and shoes that don’t have holes that will fit his size 14 feet. Woodroof said the staff at CitySquare has been working with Ocanas to help him find a home.
Ocanas is happy for the help.
“I just want to say thank you for all the volunteers,” he said. “If it wasn’t for all these people and all these places, a lot of us would be dead.”
CitySquare Paris also has a clothes closet for its neighbors to use.
“We had a young couple come in yesterday and leave with two bags full of blankets, shoes, hoodies and other clothes,” Woodroof said.
Lamar Avenue Church of Christ has seen a wide variety of visitors, Hanley said. It even received a phone call from the sheriff’s office looking to help out-of-towners as they were on their way back to Kansas.
“The sheriff’s office called us last night about a family of eight traveling to Kansas had a blown out tire, and they came and stayed the night, and we helped them get their tire fixed,” Hanley said.
Volunteers at the church have been working two at a time on six-hour shifts to keep the warming station running, he said, and on Tuesday, they were starting to run out of steam, calling for more volunteers from the community on social media. The church has been working with CitySquare, Horizon House and That House through the Paris Church of God, and they’ve managed to cover everyone’s needs. The American Red Cross has donated water, snacks and blankets, and The Salvation Army of Paris has let the church use the organization’s temporary beds.
“It’s all come together really well,” Hanley said. “Thank you is the big word to individuals and businesses who have donated.”