Hampton church readies warming center, urges others to join effort

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2023

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Buzz Trexler
Star Correspondent
A little more than a week before Christmas 2022, there was excitement in the air, with one Tri-Cities broadcast news outlet asking the question by way of headline, “Will the Tri-Cities TN/VA have a White Christmas this year?”

Just under one week later, there were more urgent concerns: “Dangerous cold expected Friday,” read a headline, pointing to the day before Christmas Eve. By Dec. 21, no one was wondering about a white Christmas as forecasters were predicting snow with dangerously low temperatures and wind chills dropping to as much as 20 to 25 below zero.

Overnight Christmas Eve temperatures recorded by one local resident reached nearly 9 below zero.

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“They said it was going to get cold, but I don’t think we realized exactly how cold,” Harmony Free Will Baptist Pastor Brandon Young said. “And then all of a sudden the bottom fell out of the thermometer. We were hit with a very severe problem last year.”

Young said he was at a hardware store when Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby reached him by phone, asking if the church would be willing to help the county deal with the extremely cold temperatures. It was clear that some Carter Countians were going to be in life-threatening situations because of power outages at their homes, and some had no shelter to begin with.

“We will do whatever we’ve got to do,” Young told her. “We worked together, and we put a plan together that very night, and people started bringing things by. We put up the air mattresses and it turned into an operation of sorts, and it worked.”

The church opened a warming center and the next day it was obvious people would be there through Christmas weekend.

“I’ll never forget last year’s Christmas. That was probably the coldest one I ever remember in my life since living here,” Young told a group of about 40 people who were gathered for a planning meeting Sunday night at the church. They wanted to be prepared if there was a similar situation this year.

“Last year we kind of took the bull by the horns,” Harmony Free Will Baptist Youth Pastor Trevor Waycaster said Sunday night. “We were open a total of five days,” serving 14 people who needed a place to stay warm. “We actually got a Christmas tree donated from somebody outside of the church,” he recalled. “We brought that Christmas tree in and let them decorate the Christmas tree.”

If dangerous weather strikes this winter, the group is working to ensure there will be no need to grab “the bull by the horns.”

“We talked about it after the fact. We still have those supplies. We’ve got mattresses, we’ve got blankets and pillows, and we have all those stored,” Young said, adding, “The thing we need to do is get a plan in place if we do this again and be prepared, and also we’d love to see more churches join us in this endeavor.”

Harmony Free Will Baptist is located at 3405 Gap Creek Road in Hampton. Young said warming centers are needed in Elizabethton and various parts of the county.

Within city limits, however, there are limitations, according to a city official.

“Well, it depends upon what their definition of a warming center is,” Elizabethton Building Inspector Chris Isaacs said when contacted Monday. “A warming center in my definition is you come in, you get warm, get you a little something to eat, you go on about your way. If you’re going to sleep in that facility, that changes everything.”

Isaacs said it’s an issue of facilities meeting the city fire code. “No sleeping in the facilities is where it comes to under the fire code,” he said.

He recalled a situation where a church was operating in the manner of a homeless shelter. “They had people sleeping in the basement, with no rooms, no exits,” he said. “That’s a very scary ordeal.”

Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Billy Harrell noted two American Red Cross shelters are within the city limits: Oak Street Baptist Church, 804 Oak St., and Grace Baptist Church, 1114 Broad St.

A volunteer board and work areas were set up during the meeting: Shannon Posada, director; Waycaster, co-director; Jessie Dyer, intake; Keshia Crum, medical; Heather Turbyfill, food and grocers; Jessie Crum, Chris Truax, and Teshia Pruitt, safety; Christy Dickerson and Pam Scalf, families and children; and Bo Cline, relief personnel.

Helpers are needed for those teams and the church is accepting sign-ups via a Google form at tinyurl.com/HFWBVolForm and volunteers will be notified when the warming center is activated. The center is operational 24/7 when the temperature is 20 degrees or below, and until it reaches 34 degrees.

Khristina Cardwell, the church’s secretary and ministry assistant, said the center needs “men and women who can stay overnight, during the day, and those who can only stay a couple of hours so others can be relieved for a bit.

“We need people who would like to cook meals that can be heated and served such as casseroles, soups, and things like spaghetti, and anyone who would just be willing to be a runner to pick things up that are needed,” she said. Since cold-weather issues often include heating and plumbing systems, Cardwell said, “We would also love to have a list of local plumbers and HVAC techs who would be willing to let us call them and see what they can do to help these folks out.

Among the supplies being accepted as donations are shampoo, body wash/bar soap, razors, washcloths, toothbrushes, toothpaste, chapsticks, combs, socks, gloves, and toboggans. “If a church or organization wanted to make up toiletry bags with those items in them, that would be great and they could drop them off here at Harmony any time after 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday,” Cardwell said in an email. Also needed are blankets, heating blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, Lysol wipes, nitrile gloves, individually wrapped snacks, and bottled waters.”
For more information, email harmonyfwbsecretary@gmail.com.