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Hot food, fellowship on a snow day at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter

Volunteers Cindy and Frank Potee, right, serve a hot lunch to, from left, Robert Gilkerson, Al Jackson, Betty Bargar and DeeAnn Taylor at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019.
Volunteers Cindy and Frank Potee, right, serve a hot lunch to, from left, Robert Gilkerson, Al Jackson, Betty Bargar and DeeAnn Taylor at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

It was about half-past noon Wednesday and snowing outside when a hot lunch was served at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster.

“All right guys, it’s ready,” Cindy Potee called to a dozen people sitting in the shelter’s main room, watching news about the winter storm outside. “It’s mac-chili. It’s like ground beef and chili and pasta.”

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Potee and her husband Frank have been volunteering for the shelter for four years, she said, but typically in the evening hours.

The Cold Weather Shelter is operated by Human Services Programs of Carroll County, Inc., but is not usually a 24-hour operation. It is typically open from 7 p.m. until 8 a.m. each night during the winter months from Nov. 15 to March 31.

But the forecast for heavy snow followed by rain and sleet on Wednesday led to a call to keep the shelter open for those who needed it from 7 p.m. Tuesday to 10 a.m. Thursday, according to shelter Program Coordinator Clare Kazyak.

“We are proud to be partnering with the county to do that,” she said. “When the county shuts down, we can be available to do this so people have a place to go when places like the library are closed.”

Winter weather has forced the shelter open during non-regular hours several times already this winter. In mid-January, a snowstorm led to the shelter opening early, at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 12, and staying open until 8 a.m. Monday, Jan 13.

Keeping the cold weather shelter running during it’s normally scheduled hours requires the efforts of teams of volunteers, and the infrequent extended hours of a snow day doubly so, according to Kazyak. She keeps a list of special “snow warrior” volunteers who can step in and help out if regular volunteers can’t make it through the weather.

“The scheduled team for dinner tonight had to cancel,” Kazyak said. “They live in the southern part of the county and they just felt like they couldn’t get here safely.”

The Potees live in Sykesville, but they had the tools needed to tackle the roads Wednesday morning.

“We have four-wheel drive,” Cindy said. “We left about 10 a.m. this morning and then we hit the grocery store and then we headed over here and brought food for tonight.”

Robert Gilkerson, right, mends a neck warmer with help from Cold Weather Shelter Program Coordinator Clare Kazyak, left, at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019.
Robert Gilkerson, right, mends a neck warmer with help from Cold Weather Shelter Program Coordinator Clare Kazyak, left, at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

It was certainly appreciated by the shelter guests, like John Mulcahy, who had been spending evenings at the shelter for about two weeks since coming back to Westminster after getting injured while working out of town.

“Trying to get it together, get this bloody leg back together and get a job, he said. “On days like this, they are always open. They are accommodating of us.”

Mulcahy was one of about 20 guests at the shelter around noon Wednesday, according to Kazyak, though she was certain that number would grow in the evening.

“I would expect we’ll get up to about 35 by night time,” she said. “We had 35 here last night and then some people headed out — we actually have a group out right now shoveling snow and we have other people who have jobs during the day.”

Al Jackson, left, and John Mulcahy watch television while eating lunch at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019.
Al Jackson, left, and John Mulcahy watch television while eating lunch at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Doris Principio has been staying at the shelter since early December, and plans to be housed again soon, but said she greatly appreciates the shelter on days like Wednesday.

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“It’s great to have a place to go and stay warm and they don’t kick you out. I mean it’s a hard way to live, and I’ve only been doing it a couple of months. Hopefully I will be out by next week,” she said. “It saved my life. I would probably have frozen to death or something.”

The Potees were planning on heading home before evening, but said they would be back if needed to prepare the dinner they had picked up in the morning.

“We got hot dogs and chips and Tastykakes,” Cindy Potee said.

Robert Gilkerson, gets a hug from Olivia Luby at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019. Due to Wednesday's snowstorm, the shelter, which is normally open 7 p.m. to 8 a.m., was open extended hours.
Robert Gilkerson, gets a hug from Olivia Luby at the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter in Westminster Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019. Due to Wednesday's snowstorm, the shelter, which is normally open 7 p.m. to 8 a.m., was open extended hours. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

It was, Principio noted, a friendly snow day feeling at the shelter Wednesday.

“You watch people, it’s the human experience,” she said. “You get to know people.”

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