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This winter on cold nights, the community’s winter homeless shelter housed at First Baptist Church Black Mountain offers a more accommodating space to warm the hearts and bodies of shelter guests and volunteers. A significant kitchen renovation completed in December allows for more-efficiently served meals and services.

For 60 years, the church’s downstairs kitchen and fellowship hall space has hosted church functions and mission activities around the community. Six years ago the winter shelter became housed in the church’s space, using the kitchen and fellowship hall.

After 60 years, the plumbing had rusted and molded. An underground grease trap needed repair. Kitchen appliances were outdated and in poor order. Underground water issues were causing issues around the church.

As coordinator of the winter shelter, Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry had a vested interest in the church’s facilities. Several years back, SVCM funded a bathroom/shower and laundry facility renovation, a needed first step. After many active years, the church knew it was time to do more to update and maintain the space for its own church programs, as well as to make the winter shelter operations more efficient and welcoming for guests.

To kick off the updates, a new kitchen refrigerator and freezer were added early last year. Soon church members were making love offerings and groups were making contributions. SVCM made a large gift, solidifying the shelter’s operation for another five years, aided by contributions by some of the shelter ministry’s 27 partnering churches, as well as from individuals.

Longtime church member Cathy Ollis was encouraged witnessing the excitement around the project from the church and the community.

“God really brought people together to make it happen, and it will be a blessing to so many,” Ollis said. The winter shelter is a good thing for the church and the community, she said. She enjoys seeing some of the shelter guests attending the Sunday worship services at First Baptist and other churches because of relationships formed around the ministry.

“The shelter has been a ministry and blessing not only to the guests, but to the many community churches and volunteers who participate,” said Bill Hamby, church member and building committee chair during the summer and fall of 2015 renovation. Volunteers participate by preparing and serving dinner and breakfast meals, gathering for fellowship with guests at the dinner meal, and filling shifts to stay overnight for supervision. In the process, relationships were formed and nurtured, helping give hope to guests.

Rounding out the renovations were new plumbing, countertop space, kitchen appliances, and the purchase of 25 cots. Now each guest has a regular cot reserved for his overnight stay. With slightly more than projected costs raised, there is now a fund to purchase a new gas stove, the final improvement for the project, said Hamby.

“Folks seem to really enjoy the new space and the homey atmosphere,” he said. With a new commercial dishwasher (complete with a three-minute wash cycle), church members like Hamby find pleasure in using the original set of plates and silverware. Hamby remembers having church meals on these same plates when he was young. The Rev. William Henderson, interim pastor, said in addition to the winter shelter, the renovated space will be used for church programs and mission projects.

“The Swannanoa Valley community cares about their people, especially those who are in situations of hardship. Lives are saved every winter night,” said Renae Brame, SVCM director. In the safety of the church’s facilities and the care of volunteers, guests can eat, rest and clean up. “We even have a prospective angel who is going to help replace shoes with holes in them so guests can have dry feet,” Brame said. Under the leadership of shelter outreach manager Sonny Moore, lives are being protected and hope given, said Brame.

During the recent winter storm, the shelter was open around the clock. Most guests did not have adequate footwear for the amount of snow, Moore said.

The winter shelter operates from Nov. 1-March 31 on nights when temperatures are below 39 degrees. Guest size averages around 11 people, with the maximum being 16. Twenty seven church groups and 80 volunteers in the Swannanoa Valley participate. Volunteer shifts range from weekly to monthly.

For more about the shelter ministry, contact Moore at moorer912@gmail.com or 273-5001.

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