Several states across the U.S. are experiencing a record-breaking polar vortex, with temperatures plunging well below zero across the Midwest. Already, frigid conditions have been linked to at least 21 deaths in various parts of the country. Schools have been closed for days and cities have shut down due to white-out conditions.
But amid bone-chilling temperatures, nonprofits, Christian ministries, and churches are opening their doors, working tirelessly to help those in need. Providing temporary shelter, food, and services to those with no place to go amid deadly wind chills, these groups are answering the call to care for the “least of these.”
As freezing temperatures move across the country, here are four Christian organizations responding to needs in their local communities.
House of Restoration
House of Restoration, a Christian nonprofit in Elgin, Illinois — a region hit by a blast of polar air that sent temperatures plunging to -23F — operates an emergency warming shelter in the basement of First United Methodist Church.
House of Restoration Community Outreach Director Lucy Gomez told The Christian Post that right now, the warming center is averaging 45 people a night and is open to anyone in need.
“We’ve been hit very hard with the cold weather so I think we’ve been on several straight weeks already,” she shared. “We’re being the hands and feet of Jesus, making sure these people don’t freeze and die, because that’s a very real concern in this climate.”
Gomez told CP she’s been working round-the-clock to ensure the emergency center, which usually opens when temperatures reach 15 degrees or lower, runs smoothly.
“We have three shifts where volunteers come and we prepare pastries, hot cocoa, coffee, soup, and juice because these people are freezing,” she said. “These people have nowhere else to go; they’re going from one place to another until one finally opens.”
Before each meal, a member of the staff will pray with visitors, thanking God for the food: “We’re here to be a blessing, to make sure that they hear the Gospel,” Gomez said. “We want to make sure they know it’s Jesus watching over them, and Jesus is the reason we do this.”
Gomez, who with her husband pastors a local church along with caring for their six-year-old son, said that sometimes, it can be difficult to mobilize the Church to serve the “least of these.”
“I always say, the first ones that should come forth are the servants of God because that’s what Christ called us to do,” she said. “Just as He preached the gospel, bringing the Word and serving and feeding, that’s what He called the Church to do. If we’re not showing the love of Christ, we’ve lost it. It’s so easy for the Church to become comfortable and stay within their own four walls, but we’re called to be an active Church and bless those around us.”
But Gomez said that in recent days, the outpouring of support from the local community has been nothing short of miraculous, with dozens of people volunteering and donating food, clothing, and other necessary items.
“It’s been such a blessing because all of the shifts have been filled,” she said. “We knew when this cold weather hit that there would be a desperate need. We’ve seen people come to Christ as a result of our work; we’ve seen salvation and people give their lives to the Lord, and then we continue to work alongside those families. That’s what the Gospel is about, and that’s what we’re called to do.”
Gomez, who took over the House of Restoration in 2014, encouraged the wider Church community to see the frigid temperatures as a chance to come together and serve those in need: “Our calling as Christians is to be active in our communities and bring the message of the Gospel,” she said. “He’s calling His people. If people are sleeping, they’re not going to be listening.”
Despite spending countless hours ministering to the hundreds of individuals coming through the doors of the emergency warming center, Gomez said her desire to serve never wavers.
“At 3 a.m., my husband said to me, ‘Lucy, why do we have so much energy?’” she said with a laugh. “Humanly, it’s simply not possible. My strength is in the Lord. God is our strength; He’s the one that sustains us and wakes us up with strength and allows us to be His hands and feet.”
Christian Love Help Center
In New Castle, Indiana, where temperatures dropped to single digits, the Christian Love Help Center (CLHC) has opened its doors to anyone needing a warm place to stay. One of the longest-running programs in the country for the needy and hungry, CLHC sleeps around 16 people and houses both men and women.
Joyce Harris, a volunteer with the organization, told The Christian Post that normally, CLHC requires its guests to have a police check before staying in its facilities. However, when weather conditions become dangerous, that’s no longer required.
“We’ve become a warming center where people can walk in the front door and can expect a hot meal and a bed if they don’t have a place to stay,” she said. “We provide coats, hot meals, and a food pantry for anyone in need.”
Currently, CLHC is currently housing several single mothers and their children.
“These people had nowhere to go,” Harris said. “We’re providing care for people who had no other option.”
Harris told CP that the response from the local community has been overwhelmingly grateful: “People are just so thankful they have a place to go,” she shared. “They’ve been so grateful to have a safe place in their local community.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leah MarieAnn Klett