Warming Center a success, Warnerville UMC expands efforts


By Patsy Nicosia

When volunteers turned out the last light at the Warnerville United Methodist Church Saturday, it wasn’t the end, but the start:
With the help of the community that had its back during its struggles to open the overnight-only Code Blue warming center, the WUMC is already at work on its Harvest of Blessings, a food pantry and free clothing give-away Saturdays, from 9am-4pm, beginning April 15.
“We just knew we weren’t done,” said Fran Sossei, who helped drive both efforts.
“This is what people tell us they need. This is what the community has told us we can do. We’ll do it as long as we can.”
The warming center had a tumultuous start, shut down before it could open in November, then opened in January after a ruling by Richmondville’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
Not only did it provide people with a place to sleep, Ms. Sossei said, but it helped connect them with services--and helped five find their own apartments.
“Most of them, they didn’t know where to go,” said one of the volunteers.
“Sometimes it was as simple as giving them a bus token, offering them some dignity, treating them like they mattered…It wasn’t just food and a bed.”
One man ended up in Warnerville after taking a wrong turn in Esperance: he was walking Route 20, headed toward Montgomery County.
And it was freezing,
He called 911, they called the Sheriff’s Office, and deputies called the warming center, ‘Do you have a bed?’
“Of course we did,” said the volunteer.
Like Ms. Sossei, the WUMC’s Rev. Maryellen Moore said the outpouring of support from everywhere—at meetings, with donations, in phone calls, ‘What do you need?--convinced them to add the Harvest of Blessings.
“I think people always want to help,” Rev. Moore said, “but it gets so overwhelming.
“Here, people can see the impact of what they do. They’re helping their neighbors. There’s a lot of frustration in the world. There’s a lot that divides us. But this is something that’s bringing us together.”
One of those it brought in was Fred Mauhs, a longtime attorney who grew up in Cobleskill, and stepped up to get the warming center reopened.
He’s now a member of the congregation.
“It was really serendipity,” Mr. Mauhs said.
He’d just finished a course in land use law when he read about the warming center’s zoning troubles in a stack of Times-Journals he’d been meaning to get to and he called the church to see if he could help.
He ended up arguing their case before the ZBA—though he downplayed his role; clearly the support for the warming center was already there, he said.
“It’s a small congregation, but they really punch above their weight,” Mr. Mauhs said.
“Their advocacy is just incredible. For me, being part of this was transformative. And once the word got out, there was this huge wave of support…blankets, food, clothing…It’s been truly inspirational.”
Catholic Charities plans to reopen the warming center in November.
The Harvest of Blessings will remain open as long as it’s stocked and as long as there’s a need.
“If it’s one person we can help, one life we can save…we’ll do it,” Ms. Sossei said.