By Joey McWilliams
It is a cold weather snap that hasn’t been seen or felt in this area in decades. And it has presented many challenges for the area in the last few days.
But with some planning, some work and many generous hearts, the situation has not been as dire for some as it could have been.
The subfreezing and literally subzero temperatures were forecast and people around the community went to work to provide shelter and more for individuals and families who may be without during this brutally cold time.
A shelter was established at Brown’s Funeral Home in Durant to provide a place to stay indoors as the thermometer has dropped and the snow has come into Bryan County.
Serena Backues, a self-described volunteer from Victory Life Church, has been at the forefront of the effort, and has been working in conjunction Scott Harper, the community coordinator for Brown’s Funeral Service, and many more.
“Before all of the ice and snow came in, Zach (Serena’s husband and Lead Pastor at the Durant campus of Victory Life) and I were working behind the scenes as a church to see what we could do,” Backues said. “Could we open our doors? We were making phone calls and we found out that Scott had been thinking the same thing.
“We saw where he was doing it and we said, as a church we’re going to be a support to whatever they’re doing and not do our own thing. So we started working with him. We showed up on Saturday and we had no plan. We just said we’re going to open on Sunday.”
Backues and Brown and others put together a video with the idea and shared it on Facebook. As of this feature, the video had been shared more than 360 times and reached thousands of people.
“He and I got to work on what to feed people and what we can do,” Backues said. “We put out the Facebook video that I’ve seen now has lots of views. And that was the starting point in working with Leticia (Burkhalter) from Families Feeding Families.
“Then we said we’re going to open grounds. We have 34 cots that were donated by the Red Cross, through Ken Eppler, our Emergency Management man. We got those into Brown’s and since then the community has been incredible. We have had surplus of food and jackets and blankets dropped off.”
People in the community have been sowing not just their money and their goods, but also their time.
“There are four or five gentlemen who show up every morning, and my husband is one of them, that say, ‘What can I do?’,” Backues said. “They have actually been taking food to families that need it. We’ve been cooking hot meals to serve to people who are at the shelter, as well as getting food to people who we know won’t come in and are staying in tents.”
The shelter has been open to many who have diverse needs. Some families have been without water and electricity in their homes. Lodging in the area is full as well, which means another place to stay has been needed.
“Last night, we had 18 people that stayed. We haven’t hit a max capacity as of now. We still have open bunks. But it has been a huge thing. A younger man was brought in who was found in the snow. I’m not sure about all of the underlying things going on, but he was passed out in the snow and they brought him in.
“We have been able to get people showers and give them clean clothes and wash clothes. Keeping them warm and fed has been our biggest accomplishment so far.”
As of now, the shelter project is open-ended, according to Backues, which is important as more winter weather is still in the forecast.
“Brown’s has been incredible. They’ve given us access to the building for this week. They don’t have any major things going on. So they said, as long as we need to be there. And if something were to come up and that isn’t the case anymore, of course we have the church to step up and be our overflow. But we want to be here as long as those temperatures are in that cold weather warning.
“I wish this something we could do all the time, but we want to get through this initial kind of temperature drop. We did see that it looks like maybe Wednesday, it’s hitting again or we’re getting some more weather. So the plan right now is just to be open until temperatures climb a little bit and its safer for people to be outside.”
For those who want to help, bringing blankets is at the top of the list. Heavy blankets. A recent Facebook post put out the call for gallons of water and candles, too.
And none of it will go to waste.
“For this, we need thick heavy blankets because we’re also wondering if we’re going to get the power surges. Where we are right now doesn’t have a generator so we want to make sure the people we’re housing can stay warm even here. And if we have families, then we want to make sure they can have blankets.
“Thick blankets, women’s shoes and men’s shoes – like waterproof boots – heavy duty stuff like that is always needed. Anything that is donated to us that isn’t used for this specific week, will be put back into the community through Hands of Hope and Families Feeding Families. It will all be funneled back to those entities to make sure it is actually is going to the people in need.
“So we’re asking for it now, knowing that we may not get to use every single blanket, but we will make sure it gets to homeless and tents and different things throughout the rest of this weather.”