NEW YORK – The Bowery Mission, one of the oldest and largest faith-based charities in New York City, said it is sheltering hundreds of people at night and turning no one away as the city and large parts of America find themselves in a deadly freeze.
"Our primary concern at The Bowery Mission during weather like this is that people are not on the streets exposed and getting sick. This is certainly life-threatening weather, so we are taking it very seriously. Last night we had 179 people stay at our first floor, at our chapel and our dining hall," said James Winans, chief development officer at The Bowery, in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
In New York, the temperature reached single digits and into the negatives with wind chill in the morning, with Mayor Bill de Blasio urging residents to find a warm place to stay and not risk cold-related dangers such as hypothermia and frostbite. CNN reported that 15 deaths have been blamed on the cold stretching across the East and South so far, 11 from traffic accidents.
Winans told CP that The Bowery, which has a dormitory for 80 men at its downtown location, tries to make room for everyone in such harsh conditions.
"We've been talking that if the numbers go up from where we are today, about 180, we've begun thinking about other areas of our building that we can open up for emergency shelter. We don't want to turn anyone away. We'd rather find another space in our building for people rather than begin to turn people away," he said.
Each night at around 9:30 p.m., The Bowery sends out staff members into the neighborhood to make sure that nobody is spending the night out on the streets, letting people know that there is help, and encouraging them to come inside.
"We encourage other folks, your readers, to do the same if they are in New York and find somebody on the street," Winans added.
The non-denominational charity, which provides food, shelter, showers, clothing, medical care and residential recovery programs, first opened in 1879, and has been welcoming people from all walks of life ever since.
One of its biggest days of operation, where hundreds of volunteers help serve thousands of meals, is Thanksgiving, which CP highlighted in a 2012 report – but Winans revealed that the first months of the new year are usually when the organization needs the most financial help.
"There's been a great deal of financial giving in December," he explained. "But January, February, March – these are the months when we have some of the greatest needs. But they tend to be months when people give less financially. So financial gifts are greatly needed even after Dec. 31 and beyond that; winter clothing is always helpful at this time of year."
Despite the extreme cold gripping New York this week, Winans shared that The Bowery takes in about the same number of people "just about every night" at this time of year. He added that most of the guests stay for breakfast, and that the organization continues to offer lunch and dinner as well every single day – along with hats, gloves, scarves and other winter items that have been donated.
Besides the various ways in which people can donate money and goods, information for which is available on the official website, Winans suggested that people can also help by printing out Resource Cards and giving them to those in need. The cards explain the type of services that The Bowery offers, and gives people directions to reach the place by subway or bus.
In February, the annual "Don't Walk By" joint campaign by some of the city's top charity organizations also returns, where groups of volunteers will cover every area in Manhattan looking for homeless people out in the dangerous cold, inviting them back to churches where they will receive shelter, care and much-needed necessities.