Kentucky may be in the south, but that doesn’t prevent the state from experiencing extreme bouts of cold in the winter, particularly in the evenings when it frequently drops below freezing. This is particularly difficult for those who are experiencing homelessness.
WestCare Kentucky Emergency Shelter in Pikeville is described by director Anna Coleman as Pikeville’s “…best kept secret” since many times people don’t even know it’s there. WestCare provides housing, substance abuse services and independent living skills for those experiencing homelessness. They receive CWS Blankets through Sisters of Hope, a local nonprofit and Church World Service Blanket and Kit partner in Eastern Kentucky. The Blankets are consistently used within the shelter, but Anna has come up with a wonderful way of helping the homeless in eastern Kentucky while also spreading the word about WestCare.
“We use [Church World Service’s] Blankets on a daily basis. We actually use them on our beds and we also use them out at the Bridge Project,” said Coleman.
But what is this Bridge Project? Coleman describes the project saying, “We use [Church World Service’s wool] Blankets because they’re in a plastic coating… we stick down a note in there telling them they can come here to the shelter to bathe, eat a meal and wash their clothes. We also give them some nonperishable [food], some heater meals, and some hygiene items.” Sandy Gunnell, director of Sisters of Hope, mentioned that often the hygiene items are CWS Hygiene Kits when those are available for distribution.
These packs are then taken to two different bridges and tunnels in the Pikeville area that are known gathering sites for individuals facing homelessness during cold winter nights. Coleman and Gunnell mentioned that word travels fast when these CWS Blanket & Hygiene Kit packs are left and they normally all get collected by the next morning.
“I’ve approached many congregations throughout the eastern Midwest and beyond to host a CWS Blanket Sunday during my time with Church World Service, but there’s something different about seeing this Bridge Project firsthand. To meet people at WestCare and around eastern Kentucky who are truly grateful for the CWS Blankets they received, whose lives were so positively impacted by them, puts a whole new perspective on these offerings and makes me so grateful for those churches that give to the CWS Blanket program year to year,” said Andrew Gifford, Community Engagement Specialist for Church World Service.
As Anna Coleman so simply said, “We want them to come here and be warm.”