In the winter of 2019-20, Community Kitchen of Paducah provided a warming center to those in need of getting out of the harsh elements.
It was unavailable in the 2020-21 winter because of COVID-19 concerns, and the decision was made last year by Community Kitchen to discontinue its warming center.
Community Kitchen reached out to the United Way of Paducah-McCracken County in September to find someone to set up a warming center in its stead.
Anne Bidwell, the executive director of the local United Way, reached out and got a response from several nonprofits and others who formed a coalition to set up a warming center.
“We call ourselves the League of Extraordinary Partners,” she said. “They got together when Community Kitchen called — they called the United Way and said, ‘We’re not going to do it this year, but it needs to be done; you’ve got to figure it out.’
“I called some community partner friends and basically said, ‘We’ve got to do this, and we’ve got to do it within two months.’ ”
The first thing the group did was find someone to host a warming center, and the Washington Street Baptist Church responded to the call.
“Pastor (Reynarldo) Henderson was awesome,” Bidwell said. “He came and met with us and said, ‘We can do it, but we can’t afford the utilities. We’re going to need a lot of help to pull it off.’ ”
The group of partners quickly raised $20,000. It toured the building at 739 Washington St. next to the main church site and met to discuss what it needed to open a warming center. Bidwell said Community Kitchen was one of the first financial contributors to support the new warming center and provided cots and linens.
“It’s been like building the proverbial plane as we fly, but it’s gone really well so far,” Bidwell said. “It really would not be happening without Washington Street.
“We could use a lot more volunteers, but basically, the church is here every night all night, so if we could get some extra volunteers to help them out, that would be awesome.”
The warming center is open from November through March when the temperature is at or below 40 degrees. The center is open on those days from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. It has a capacity of about 20 people.
From November through the first week of January, the warming center has had 45 guests, with 22 of those staying more than once. That included 34 men and 11 women and one married couple.
All of those who took advantage of the warming center were unemployed or receiving disability coverage. Of the 45 people using the center, 38 were white, eight were Black and one was Hispanic.
When someone comes to the warming center, they sign in and take a COVID-19 test provided by Wild Health. Guests are provided a shower and fresh clothes to choose from if needed.
Dinner is served about 7 p.m. in the licensed kitchen cooked up by church and community volunteers, and a television is available to help track weather systems or give guests something to do during their stay.
Men’s and women’s quarters are separate and there is an area for married couples.
Monetary donations for the warming center can be mailed to the Washington Street Baptist Church, 721 Washington St., Paducah, KY 42003. Donations of items can be brought to the church.
An official ribbon-cutting was held Friday morning. Those who came by the warming center Friday included Bidwell, Judge-Executive Craig Clymer, Paducah Mayor George Bray, Chamber President Sandra Wilson and representatives of Washington Street and other churches, Paducah Ambassadors and others.
“Everybody has been thanking us, but I think it’s important that we thank you,” Henderson said before the ribbon-cutting. “This effort is made possible because of your kindness and your generosity.”
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