By Cheryl Magness
As the northern and midwestern United States prepared for record-low temperatures in conjunction with this week’s polar vortex, several districts and congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) stood ready to offer help to those who needed it.
Starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, and extending through 8 a.m. Friday, Feb. 1, the LCMS South Wisconsin District (SWD) operated an emergency warming shelter in coordination with the American Red Cross and 2-1-1 Wisconsin.
The shelter, located at the SWD office at 8100 W. Capitol Drive in Milwaukee, was staffed by volunteers and resourced with donations from the greater Milwaukee Lutheran community. Supplies on hand included cots, blankets, food, toiletries and cold-weather clothing. Volunteers from 19 congregations and Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, participated in the effort to keep people warm.
The Rev. Jonah Burakowski, director of Missions and Human Care for the SWD, said, “With temperatures dropping to -15 to -25 before wind chill, we recognized a significant need. … Within a few hours of asking for volunteers to work in the shelter or make meals, we were booked solid. Churches from all over the greater Milwaukee area shared their time, talents and treasure so others who would ordinarily go without would be warm.
“We are thankful that we were able to provide a place where our local churches could come together to help. Not every church has the facilities, volunteers or the resources. But as a district, as the Body of Christ, we pulled the various parts together to share the love of Christ.”
In Cincinnati, which experienced a low of zero and a high of 5 degrees on Wednesday, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church prepared for a larger-than-usual turnout at its Winter Shelter, a homeless ministry that the church provides nightly from Dec. 15 through Feb. 28. The shelter, which has been operating for seven years, is open from 9 p.m. through 7 a.m. each day.
The Rev. John Suguitan, pastor at Prince of Peace, emphasized that the church’s Winter Shelter “does not operate in a vacuum in terms of serving the homeless and poor in the downtown area of Cincinnati. There are other ministries that we attempt to coordinate with in order to be efficient and maximize our services.”
Suguitan went on on to explain that Prince of Peace chose 7 a.m. as the closing time for the Winter Shelter because that is the time another nearby homeless ministry opens its doors to serve breakfast. Other groups in the area provide lunch, meaning those in need have access to three meals per day.
Suguitan said that the Winter Shelter has been “at or near capacity for most of the year. About 85 percent of the individuals that stay in our shelter are repeat guests.”
The shelter has seen an increase of 5 to 10 percent this week. “When we do go over capacity,” Suguitan added, “which happens when it is cold like it has been, the people over capacity are driven to the other cold shelter about a mile south of us. The Cincinnati Police commander in our district has agreed to graciously transport any individuals that come to our shelter that are over capacity.”
The Winter Shelter receives no government funding, relying entirely on donations. The cost to house one person overnight is $11. Donations are welcome and can be made at poplcmscinci.org/winter-shelter.
Other outreach efforts this week included the LCMS Michigan District’s Acts 2 Enterprise, which was working with Bethany Lutheran Church in Detroit to convert the church’s gym into a warming station. Also in Detroit, Family of God Lutheran Church expanded its urban ministry. Tyler Conkright, vicar at Family of God, said, “Our doors will be open earlier, hot food every night this week, and we are well stocked with blankets and other cold gear.”
A reported 90 million Americans have experienced temperatures of zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower this week. That amounts to a third of the nation. As of Friday, 21 deaths had been attributed at least in part to the polar vortex.
Summing up the Church’s effort to care for those in need this week, Burakowski said, “How exciting it is to see men, women and families joining together to show the mercy we have been shown. One-on-one contacts, the ministry of presence, feeding others, warming others, simply providing a kind word in the midst of bitter weather is what happened, and it was the Church.”
Posted Feb. 1, 2019