STEUBENVILLE - The blankets, coats, gloves and hats were being packed up Thursday morning as the volunteers at the Urban Underground Friendship Room prepared to shut down their warming center until the next arctic air weather moves into the area.
"It is starting to warm up a little, so we are ceasing our operations for now. But I understand the cold will return and we will be back to help people looking for a place to get warm," Molly McGovern said as she directed the cleaning work and watched for visitors looking for soup or a cup of coffee.
Several of the people who had been helped by the warming center were sweeping the floor and helping to pack up the supplies donated from more than 100 area businesses and dozens of private individuals.
SERVING SOUP ON A COLD MORNING — Cynthia Welker, left, a volunteer at the warming center in downtown Steubenville, serves Kay a bowl of chicken and rice soup Thursday morning. The warming center in the Urban Underground facility at Fourth and Market streets closed at noon Thursday, but organizers promised to re-open the center if temperatures dip into the single digits again. — Dave Gossett
Kay stopped by the center Thursday morning and politely asked volunteer Cynthia Welker for some chicken and rice soup that had been donated by Plain Jane's Restaurant on South Fourth Street.
"Lots of people in the community are talking about this warm, friendly place where you can get some help. I got this coat a few days ago and it has kept me warm," Kay said.
Another woman stopped by the table where McGovern was sitting and showed off a jacket and sweatshirt she had received at the warming center.
"I'm warm these days because of the people here," the woman told McGovern.
"We had people from both sides of the Ohio River and all over the Ohio Valley donating items to the warming center. Whatever we needed we would list it on our Facebook page and we would be inundated. It has been a beautiful outpouring of gifts. One lady stopped at the Steubenville Bakery and brought us two loaves of bread. There was another woman who paid for a mattress for a man who didn't have one. Then she bought us a coffee percolator. I am amazed by the generosity shown by the area and people I didn't know. We have been blessed every day," McGovern stated.
"I'm afraid to start naming the businesses because I know I will miss some. The response has been tremendous. The Steubenville McDonald's donated sandwiches and then the Wintersville McDonald's donated more sandwiches. This has been a true effort by everyone helping out in any way they can," explained McGovern.
Some of the food donations were transported Thursday to the Samaritan House while the blankets, coats, hats and gloves were packed for storage at the Urban Underground at the Fourth and Market Street intersection.
"We know it will get cold again and we will be ready to help people again. I have enjoyed being here the past several days and watching the different groups of people sort of merging together. We have been able to provide a place for people to stay overnight with the help of the mens' households at Franciscan University of Steubenville and the Knights of Columbus," noted McGovern.
McGovern and several volunteers started the grass-roots effort to offer refuge from the bitter cold weather earlier this month.
"When the first really cold snap hit we thought we should do something. I asked various places if we could open up a warming center at their locations. They said someone else would probably take care of it. I felt we can always rely on others, but this time we should do something ourselves. I talked to Cynthia Welker and she immediately volunteered to help. Another friend started the friendship warming center Facebook page," continued McGovern.
"I got involved because I know Molly and her husband, Bill. Their mission here was impossible to ignore. It is a calling that is impossible to ignore so I brought food and clothes," commented Sherry Kurtz Descalzo.
"Sherry walked in and I needed some gloves for a child and she literally took the gloves off her childrens' hands and gave them to us," laughed McGovern.
"Then there was the message on our Facebook page from a woman in California who wanted to donate pizza to the center. A few minutes later a pizza delivery car stopped outside and brought in six boxes of donated pizza paid for by a woman in California," according to Descalzo.
"One of the volunteers went to Big Lots to buy gloves to donate. She told the cashier who was checking her out why she bought so many gloves. That cashier told her co-workers and all of the cashiers working there took money out of their pockets to pay for the gloves," McGovern related.
"The Trinity West Employees Caring and Helping Others Fund brought down a ton of supplies and then wrote a check for the heating bill. That is the kind of community support we have seen and it is beautiful," McGovern said.
"As I said before, 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 have been given to Bob Lesnefsky of the Urban Underground who is supplying the heat to keep people warm in here," stated Molly McGovern.
"So many people have been blessed by the generosity of the people of this community. We truly are a caring area that is ready to help anyone in need," McGovern said.