The shelter at the First Baptist Church in Salem was opened Jan. 27 after all of Salem and most of the surrounding area lost power in the ice storm. The Arkansas Army National Guard brought the church an emergency generator and the Fulton County Hospital donated 50 cots for those needing a warm place to go. An additional 100 cots were delivered on Thursday. According to the First Baptist Church pastor John Hodges, the church kept the amount of cots they needed and donated the rest to the shelter at the First Assembly of God shelter in Viola.
"We've been taking people who need shelter who don't have heat, electricity or water or anything," Phillis Turner, the church secretary, said. "We've been fixing three meals a day and (people) have been able to take showers (and) use the washing machine. We have a washing machine and dryer here and they've been doing their laundry."
Wednesday night, the First Baptist shelter housed 20 people but that number grew to about 40 per night as power continued to be out and some had no way to heat their homes. "Many more have been coming in for food, showers, bottled water and supplies that we can give them and they're going back to stay at their homes," Hodges said. "I think 62 (people) one night was our biggest night."
Those who traveled a good distance to help restore power also need a warm place to lay their heads at night. "They (NAEC) tell us we're going to have a chain saw crew from the co-op. We have not had them, as yet, but we have a place set up for them," Hodges said.
Others staying at the shelter were glad for a chance to help.
"I'm without electricity, like everybody else and I have an electric cookstove. I have gas heat, so I was warm, but then the phone went out and I had no way to get a hold of someone if I needed to. Plus, my car is parked in the garage with 14 dozen trees blocking the road. When the guys working on the road offered me a ride to the shelter, I told them to come back and get me when they got done," Dixie Harris of Salem said. "This is where I go to church and I feel comfortable up here, plus I can help the workers take care of others."
Hodges said there have been volunteers working at the church who have had to cut limbs and trees out of the way to get elderly church members to the shelter if they need to go. "We've tried to contact them all. We haven't been successful at getting to everyone but we've got to a good number of them," Hodges said.
The church has a large gymnasium that served as the dining area for all and the sleeping area for the men. For a bit of privacy, Harris said, "We have been putting families together in rooms and the women together in rooms."
The choir room at the church was set up with cots on Thursday for about 10 residents and two workers at Clayton Court in Salem, a group home for people with special needs. "We continued to lose power because of the storm those nights so we had to move them into another room that was warmer. It was our old youth room," Hodges said.
Chris O'Brien of Camp along with her daughter Rose Marie arrived at the shelter on Thursday. "It just got to be too much," she said.
One mother found the shelter to be an ideal place to help her children deal with the power outages and cold weather.
"We just came up here for the day. We're staying with my father-in-law and they have heat. We're up here today because they (her two children) need to burn off some energy," Becky Harlow said.
"Most of the kids are very resilient," Hodges said. "When we've had power up, we've had games for them. We put them in the youth room where they have a Wii back there. They've been O.K. They've done quite well."
"I've been doing cartwheels," Ashley Harlow said while her brother Alex enjoyed the opportunity to just run a bit.
The church has received several donations of food. Hodges said FEMA should be reimbursing churches for any food and supplies they buy for their shelters until power is back up.
American Red Cross volunteers Jefferson and Virginia Quick of Gepp were at the shelter helping wherever they could. Jefferson's mother, Sharon, is also a Red Cross volunteer.
"She's flying in today from Washington. She's been there helping with the paperwork for all the disasters that's happened over the past year. Since this disaster has happened here, they're sending her home," Jefferson said. "We're here just to help people. It looks like this could go on for a while."
Other people in the community have been helping out as well. "The church has been great to get volunteers," Hodges said. "We had as many as 15 (volunteers) per shift."
According to Hodges, the church has had to post sentries at the doors to the shelter to keep people safe and assist those who need help. Turner said they have had problems with at least one elderly person with dementia leaving the shelter and having to be brought back after she got lost. For FEMA purposes, Turner said, there are sign-in and sign-out sheets at the doors.
As power continues to be restored, more people are leaving the shelter and going back to the warmth of their own homes. Hodges said, Sunday night there were not as many people staying at the shelter as during the beginning of the storm. The church also was able to cut back on volunteers.
The church has received a wide variety of volunteers who are helping out with their time and talent. "We've had Dr. Tucker, who's one of our members, he's a retired physician from Ash Flat, who's come up and checked on patients," Hodges said. "The list could just go on and on (on the number of volunteers). There's tons of workers who have come up. Dr. (Jim) Bozeman has sent patients up here and he's been gracious enough to help with medications. We've just had all kinds of help."
"We've had great volunteers," Hodges said. "The Assembly of God here at Salem has sent volunteers and the Church of Christ also helped with food. We just have a good community."