February 4, 2009 Edition

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Shelters provided meals, lodging

These women were some of the volunteers helping provide meals at the Black Rock Fire Department. They are (front, from left): Elizabeth Pickney and Mary Irvin and (back) Vicki Leipert and Sara Gorky. Many people brought food from their homes to cook before it spoiled due to the power outage.
TD Photo ~ John Bland
John Bland

While the ice storm left whole communities dark and cold for a week or longer, the ice was no match for the warmth and spirit shown by many groups and individuals. That spirit was probably most evident at the shelters set up to provide meals, lodging or both.

Lawrence Health Service remained in business with its emergency generators and was the first to offer meals to the public and shelter for the sick. (See related story.) Then, other shelters soon opened at the Walnut Ridge Community Center and the Hoxie School safe room, while First Baptist Church in Walnut Ridge and the Black Rock Fire Department provided daily meals.

WR Community Center

J.R. and Michelle Rogers, who are state representative and Walnut Ridge mayor, respectively, provided a generator and lighting for a shelter set up at the Walnut Ridge Community Center gym. The shelter opened Thursday morning and was still in operation as of Monday night.

Approximately 100 people were served supper at the community center on Thursday night, while some 50 people were spending the night on cots and blankets provided by the Red Cross and Corps of Engineers.

Mayor Rogers said Walnut Ridge Volunteer Firemen set up the cots, and Jerry Atkinson set up the generator to power the heat and lights. J.R. Rogers and Kevin Travis got showers in working order for those staying at the shelter.

"Mr. (Terry) Belcher has just been wonderful," Mayor Rogers said, referring to the superintendent of the Lawrence County (Walnut Ridge and Black Rock) School District. "He's helped supply anything that we've needed," she added. Harps supermarket, as well as the Walnut Ridge School, donated food to be cooked at the community center shelter. Kim Wills of the school cafeteria staff oversaw much of the food preparation.

The City of Walnut Ridge purchased water, coffee and lunchmeat to supplement the other donated items, Mayor Rogers said. Boxed meals were also provided by the Arkansas Baptist Men's Association, which is affiliated with the Red Cross. The Teamsters Union donated 13 pallets of dry food for the shelter.

Jerry Gilliam donated use of a refrigerated trailer to keep all food cold, said Paige Vanbrook of the 911 center. High school students, such as Carrie Massey and Cassie Bennett, as well as younger teens, such as Robert and Sharon Campbell, assisted adult volunteers in serving refreshments and greeting visitors. Volunteers also took shifts to oversee the shelter and its occupants. Vicky Davis, director of the community center, has also spent many hours at the shelter to assist in various ways.

The shelter was expected to remain open until all power is restored or until it is no longer needed, said Vanbrook. Hoxie shelter

Another shelter was offered in the tornado building or safe room of the Hoxie School. Pat Sluder, code enforcement officer for the Hoxie Police Department, served as coordinator for the shelter. On Sunday, Sluder said the shelter had been housing eight or nine people at night and feeding approximately 12 people per meal, breakfast, lunch and supper.

The Hoxie shelter opened Thursday night and had some 20 cots and blankets from the Red Cross. Sluder said Adam Pratt helped get the shelter up and running with equipment. "We really appreciate it," she said. The school's generator provided power for the shelter, and the Hoxie Police Department and Hoxie Fire Department have provided two people per shift to provide security for the shelter.

Juanita Madden of Hoxie brought food she had cooked to the shelter, and meals were provided from the Walnut Ridge Community Center.

Black Rock VFD

The Black Rock Fire Department started providing meals to the community as of last Tuesday night and by Sunday at 11:45 a.m. had served 980 meals.

Sue Roby, wife of Black Rock Fire Chief Pat Roby, said they served breakfast two days and had served lunch and dinner every day. On Saturday night, they fed 132 people.

"We're also delivering meals to senior citizens and others who can't get here," Sue said.

"There is not a better group of people in this world than the (Black Rock) Volunteer Fire Department," said Taressia Stinnett, a Black Rock area resident. "They're the ones who initiate good things all the time."

People donated food from their homes before it spoiled, and volunteer cooks were kept busy continuously cooking all day, Sue said. One group cooked in the Black Rock Fire Department kitchen, while another group used gas grills and fish cookers in another area. "We don't even know some of the volunteers," she added.

"We'll keep doing this as long as we need to," Chief Pat Roby said.

WR First Baptist

At First Baptist Church on Friday, church members were busy doing various tasks in their ministry to provide hot meals to the public during the power outage. Some volunteers were scrubbing dirty pots and pans, while others were preparing big containers of food for the next day's meal. Volunteers were serving the food to patrons in their fellowship hall, while others delivered meals to shut-ins.

The church served two meals a day on Thursday and Friday and a noon meal on Saturday and Sunday at no cost to the public.

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