As I sit here and write this column, it’s about 8 a.m. Friday morning. I’ve just gotten my oldest out the door to meet the school bus on time. It’s about 30 degrees outside as I hurry back up to the house past what’s left of my frozen tomato plants.
On mornings like this one, I often wonder and worry about how homeless people are surviving.
If you hadn’t already noticed, first frost came early this year. Typically, our first frost day (according to my Lewis County Master Gardeners paperwork) is after October 15. This year, though, the first frost warning came in the first week of October and left me scrambling to pull the last green tomatoes off the vine before nightfall.
As I lined my kitchen window with still-green tomatoes, I caught myself thinking, “Wow. Here I am all worried about saving tomatoes … and I have yet to think of the very real human lives also impacted by this unseasonably cold weather.”
That thought also made me curious. With it being so early in the year for freezing — what were homeless members of our community doing to get by?
Because, you see, the severe weather shelter doesn’t open until November 1. That’s no knock on them — with the shelter operating out of the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds, it’s generally not available this early. Heck, Country Chicks was just there last weekend. And, there’s still upcoming events on the calendar for this month too.
On top of that, volunteers just aren’t in place yet for the severe weather shelter.
Other organizations are working really hard to try to accommodate the additional need. Both Lewis County Gospel Mission and the Salvation Army modified their hours to open sooner and to try to warm people up as early as possible before buses started to run.
But something else really awesome happened over this summer that I want to tell you about too.
If you followed my columns at all over the last few years, you know, that each fall and winter, I collect mylar emergency thermal blankets through this column space. This is the time of year I usually start asking for blankets. Last year, 1000 blankets went out again to local organizations that directly interact with homeless individuals.
In the spring, I always try to hold back the last hundred mylar blankets or so for a jump-start the following fall, but this last spring, blankets just kept coming. I’d get messages from the staff at the front counter of The Chronicle telling me another shipment of blankets had arrived — all summer long!
Many people who sent blankets this way do not include their personal info. I don’t know who this person was, but my sneaking suspicion is that this person had put mylar blankets on their “Subscribe & Save” list on Amazon, which auto delivers items on a schedule and rate of your choice.
Thanks to this person (or persons), as of October 1, I had 450 mylar blankets in the trunk of my car, ready to go out to organizations.
So, when I realized I had worried about tomatoes before people — this is where I say I was disappointed in myself.
At any rate, 450 mylar emergency thermal blankets went out to local organizations the first week of October. Lewis County Gospel Mission, Gather Cafe, OPEN ARMS and American Medical Response got most of what I had on hand with a few blankets going a couple of other places.
That said, I am out of blankets at this point — but that’s not a bad thing! 450 blankets are out there right now hopefully helping keep people, families, and vulnerable extremities protected.
If you would like to help with this effort, please ship mylar blankets (foil looking material) via Amazon directly (or drop off) to 321 North Pearl Street in Centralia, Washington (98531), ATTN: Blankets. You can get 50 blankets for less than $0.50 / blanket. Chronicle staff place them in the main vault where I pick them up and distribute directly to organizations. This effort is in memory of Jerry Allen Grimm, a homeless man who froze to death at Riverside Park in Centralia in December 2016.
But the biggest thing you can do is volunteer! Volunteering at a homeless organization means they can open earlier, and for longer duration, until the severe weather shelter opens around Nov. 1. Contact your favorite homeless assistance program for more info. Ask your church what efforts they are directly supporting!
Brittany Voie is a columnist for The Chronicle. She lives south of Chehalis with her husband and two young sons. She welcomes correspondence from the community at email@example.com.