A place to get warm

STEUBENVILLE – Molly McGovern had just sat down when she noticed two men leaving the Urban Underground center at Fourth and Market streets.

“Excuse me for a moment. I just want to make sure they get some gloves and hats before they leave here,” the organizer of the Friendship Room said.

The idea of providing a warm place for homeless or people in need of some hot food or a place to warm up came several weeks ago when temperatures in the area dipped below the zero mark.

“I went on Facebook and said we were going to provide a warming center for people in need. I asked for food, clothes and blankets as well as food donations, and we immediately saw the results. People were bringing in used coats, gloves and hats as well as used blankets. Or in some cases people went to the store and bought new coats and gloves, socks or hats as well as blankets or quilts to help out the people who were cold,” Molly McGovern explained.

The Friendship Room opened again Wednesday and will be open from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. today.

“We make a decision on opening based on the weather forecast and how cold it will get. Last time I saw a 12-year-old boy who was huddled over at the Huntington Bank. He had no coat or hat so we brought him back here to get warm. I also saw a pregnant woman walking the street with no coat. So we helped her.

“I want people in the community to know there is a place during the cold weather where they can come in for some winter clothes, a blanket, coffee and hot soup. Today we have lamb soup because I had some extra lamb in the freezer,” said McGovern.

“We are serving more than the homeless. We have seen people who have had their power turned off or maybe their furnace isn’t working. They are using their blankets to hang over their windows to keep the cold out. We try to give them some extra blankets to use at home. I have been amazed by the donations we have received so far,” remarked Bill McGovern, Molly’s husband.

“Pope Francis keeps talking about taking it to the streets. He wants people to help make a difference locally. You don’t have to go to a Third World country to look for someone to help. We have people in need right here we can help. I think it is more of a challenge to help locally,” noted Molly McGovern.

That’s when Anna Kissinger parked outside of the store front.

“I heard about the Friendship Room from Molly and my husband Mark, and I wanted to do something to help. So I brought some bottled water, paper products, blankets and pastries,” said Kissinger as she handed items to the volunteers to carry into the Friendship Room.

“Molly, if you need Mark to help with anything please let us know. He will be glad to come down,” Kissinger told McGovern.

“We might be able to use him in the evening. We try to have men here at night to help the people who come in,” responded Molly McGovern.

“The first time we opened the center during the last cold spell we had a number of volunteers from the Knights of Columbus come in to stay here all night. I sent several of them to drive around and look for people who needed a place to get warm or maybe just needed a coat or a blanket,” Molly McGovern said.

At a nearby table Cynthia Welker was chatting with Ralph Hilderbrand of Wintersville.

“I was walking around downtown today and saw the people in here and decided to see what was going on.

“I had some free coffee and soup, and now I am enjoying some good conversation,” explained Hilderbrand.

“This isn’t a Catholic thing. We are open to people of all faiths and beliefs. This is one family helping another family.

“This isn’t an organization or a church. We are just people getting together to help someone else. We are looking for people willing to donate their time in addition to some food or blankets. Any monetary donations will be given to Bob Lesnefsky of the Urban Underground who is supplying the heat to keep people warm in here,” stated Molly McGovern.

“And after we get through the cold weather I hope to come down here once a week to run the Friendship Room. When it gets warm I will be serving lemonade to those who stop in. We have had 10 to 15 people stop in so far today. Everyone is welcome,” remarked Molly McGovern.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)