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By Kyle Stucker
ROCHESTER — Thanks to an enormous and ever-growing outpouring of support, the individuals operating Rochester’s new emergency warming shelter believe there’s enough momentum to transform their temporary salve into a regular occurrence to better aid local people in need.
Extreme, life-threatening cold inspired the conversion of part of the Rochester Community Center into the Seacoast area’s only 24-hour warming station on Thursday. Since the station opened, more than two dozen people have sought overnight shelter. In addition, countless community members and businesses have dished out hot meals and piled mountains of nonperishable food, clothing, supplies, books and more onto folding tables erected in the room typically used by Gerry’s Food Pantry.
Tri-City Co-Op’s Don McCullough and SOS Recovery Community Organization’s Elizabeth Atwood are the two social service officials credited with kickstarting the citywide collaboration that created the shelter. They say the early success is both overwhelming and validating because discussions are underway to not only extend the volunteer-run station past its Jan. 2 end date, but also to use it as the model for either a reoccurring or permanent overnight shelter in Strafford County.
“We’re going to storm the castle,” said McCullough, a retired Rochester firefighter who is the program coordinator at Tri-City Co-Op, a peer-support agency that serves Strafford County. “We’re planning to do this every cold snap, but the goal is to also make it permanent.”
Tri-City Co-Op, SOS and a number of organizations, nonprofits, ministries and businesses from throughout the region partnered with city employees to make the warming shelter a reality. The city is allowing SOS and an army of volunteers to run the shelter out of the community center at no charge. The shelter isn’t staffed by paid city employees.