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Warming center hums along through cold spell

Charitable couple orders pizzas for overnight guests Monday evening

Overnight low temperatures have been frigid this week — and daytime highs not much higher — but transients and others in the St. Helens area in need of a warm place to sleep at night have had a place to go, thanks to the efforts of a local nonprofit group and a dedicated volunteer crew.

Jan Stites, lead organizer of the Columbia County Warming Center, said the center opened Monday, Dec. 29, for a grateful few guests. As of press time, Stites said she expected it to remain open every night until Friday or Saturday due to a chilly weather forecast.

“We opened for the first time last night in a while, because the weather was cold again,” Stites said Tuesday. “And we had people who were very glad to be able to have showers and do laundry and be warm for the night.”

The center’s four overnight guests Monday were greeted with an unexpected holiday gift: hot pizzas from Domino’s Pizza, ordered by a good Samaritan couple not affiliated with the warming center.

“That was an additional blessing, because we don’t typically serve a regular kind of a meal,” said Stites. “We just have warm drinks and some ‘Cup of Noodles’ type thing.”

Kimberly Mickelonis told the Spotlight she and her husband Peter decided that they wanted the people staying at the warming center on Monday to have a better meal than ramen noodles, so they ordered six pizzas from Domino’s and had them delivered to the center.

“We had never heard of this shelter before today, so it would be great if the word got spread and everyone pitched in if they get a chance!” Mickelonis wrote on her Facebook page Monday afternoon.

The warming center’s intake hours are from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Overnight guests are asked to be out the door the next morning by 8 a.m., although they are welcome to return in the evening if the center is open again.

The plan this winter is for the warming center to be open every night that the forecast low temperature is at or below the freezing point.

In previous years, the warming center has only been open for a predetermined period of time, regardless of the weather.

The warming center is located at the Houlton office of Community Action Team, Inc., a local nonprofit group. The building is located at 125 N. 17th Street, St. Helens.

Stites said the center has received so many donations this winter that it is running out of space. For that reason, she said, she would prefer that people hold off for now on donating items to the warming center.

“Unless somebody had shelves — then we could take donations,” she said, laughing.

The center does accept cash donations, although checks should be made out to Community Action Team, its nonprofit umbrella group, with a note specifying that the purpose of the check is for the warming center, Stites said.

“We have been truly blessed with people in this community who I think have been looking for a place locally to donate and help people,” said Stites.

She added, “This is just a great community. We’ve had so many people passing the word along and bringing things in and just making it happen.”

Stites said the warming center now has about 65 trained volunteers, who do everything from host overnight guests at the Community Action Team building, wash and dry laundry, and help keep the center clean and well-stocked.

The center is always looking for more volunteers, Stites said, as well as businesses in the area willing to post signs alerting customers and passersby when the warming center is open.

Anyone interested in participating or who wants to learn more can contact Stites directly at ccwarmingcenter@gmail.com.