Winters in the Walla Walla Valley can be cold, but it’s relatively rare for temperatures to dip so low it’s dangerous for people to be outside.
But that was the case last weekend. No clear plans were in place to provide shelter for the homeless when the mercury went to zero and the wind chill made it far colder.
The community quickly rallied and shelter was available for the weekend.
A “warming station” was established at First Congregational Church on Friday. The Rev. Cecilia McKean said a dozen people took shelter Sunday night.
The local American Red Cross brought in cots and blankets. The help didn’t stop there, McKean said. People brought food, blankets, clothing and volunteered to help.
“The outpouring from the community was staggering,” McKean said. “ ... We had more volunteers than we had slots to put them. It was pretty amazing. I’m proud to live here.”
Frankly, we all are. This community always seems to rally when folks are in need.
The warming station at the church was supposed to close after Saturday, but the weather didn’t cooperate. The excess of volunteers made it possible to keep the shelter open until the weather danger passed.
Noah Leavitt, one of those who volunteered to work at the church throughout the night, said the collaboration between government, nonprofit and religious entities was heartwarming to witness.
“Hopefully it will be more than just having this one weekend. Hopefully it will stimulate larger discussions in the community,” Leavitt said.
With folks such as Leavitt and McKean leading the way, it’s difficult to believe the community won’t step forward to provide emergency shelter when it’s needed and come up with long-term plans to meet the needs of the homeless.
It’s one of the many reasons people are proud to live in this Valley.
A community education event is scheduled for Jan. 15, although a meeting location and a time have not yet determined. The purpose of the event is to show the community what it is like to be homeless by taking a walking tour of Walla Walla’s downtown area.