WINONA, Minn. - A new warming center in Winona is celebrating a successful first year.
The Winona Community Warming Center, which is located inside Community Bible Church in downtown Winona, has been open since January.
Similar to the warming center in La Crosse, it offers those who are homeless a place to stay overnight during the winter months.
When the center closed down for the year last Friday, program leaders said the first year has been a success.
Mary Farrell has been a volunteer at the warming center from the beginning.
"I just want to be a part of an organization and an effort to let people know there's someone out there that they can turn to and cares about what happens to them,” Farrell said.
Farrell was one of around 130 volunteers working overnight, providing a place for the homeless to stay.
"We were aware that there were homeless people in Winona, and we wanted to do something to provide shelter for them,” Tom Parlin, the center’s director, said.
The center provided space for up to 10 people.
"We've never had this in Winona before," Parlin said.
From January to the end of March, the number of people using the center nearly doubled.
"We were receiving instead of 2 to 4 people like we were seeing in January-February, we were seeing more like 6 to 8 people on a regular basis,” Parlin said.
"We were modeling this after the warming center in La Crosse, and we knew from them that it would take some time for people to actually feel comfortable even coming," Farrell said.
Leaders said those that walked through their doors challenged everyone's stereotypes.
"The guests were regular people, like anyone else,” Parlin said. “The only difference was that they didn't have a place to stay."
Because of the success of this year, leaders said the center will be open again come Nov. 1.
"I think there's a lot of people that want to be understanding and compassionate for people who don't have a place to go,” Farrell said.
"The advantage we've got now is that we've gotten a start and we have volunteers that helped us that will help us build upon,” Parlin said.
While the warming center is based out of Community Bible Church in downtown Winona, Catholic Charities is the organization that runs the shelter.
The group is always looking for volunteers, and any donations would be appreciated as well.
You can find more information at winonawarmingcenter.org.
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