Volunteers need break after back-to-back shelter openings

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - When temperatures took another plunge Friday night, cold weather shelters in South Mississippi opened their doors again. It was the fourth straight night this week that the Salvation Army in Gulfport has been providing a warm place for the homeless to lay their heads. The back-to-back shelter openings have taken a toll on the dedicated volunteers and limited resources.

After spending Thursday night at the Salvation Army cold weather shelter on 22nd Street in Gulfport, about 70-homeless people packed-up and headed out to face the chilly morning.

"They gave me vouchers for clothes and made sure we're fed well, plenty of coffee, plenty of snacks. They're taking care of us. I'm very thankful," said Daniel Thorton, who is homeless.

For the volunteers, it was time to get the shelter ready for another night of freezing temperatures.

"The cold season this year has been more harsh than we've seen in the past two years that the cold weather shelter at this location has been open. We've been open more consecutive nights in a row. We have the same volunteers that come in every time and we're blessed to have those volunteers, but we understand that they need a break too," said Salvation Army Public Relations Director Laura Bianco.

Sixteen to 20 volunteers are needed to run the cold weather shelter every night. They serve food, sign-in people, and help keep everyone safe.

Susan Williams works the morning shift. She is one of the regular volunteers who stay to help monitor the shower station and wash and fold laundry.

"We need new volunteers to help give the old volunteers some relief. When it's open like three or four nights in a row, it just helps out. So if there's anybody that can do anything, that would be great," said Williams.

The organization is also running low on personal hygiene products, especially deodorant, as well as certain food items.

"The donations are dwindling some. We are always in need of deodorant, socks, underwear, high-efficiency laundry detergent and coffee, lots of coffee, lots of creamer, lots of sugar. Those are the main items we're looking for right now, because we've been open so much this season," said Bianco.

With enough supplies on hand and volunteers in its database, the Salvation Army can be prepared to help the homeless cope with more frigid nights ahead.

You can drop-off donations Monday through Friday at the Salvation Army building on 22nd Street in Gulfport. And if you'd like to volunteer at the cold weather shelter, go to www.salvationarmymscoast.org

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