Storm disrupts local agencies' work

February 18, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Sunday's snowstorm curtailed outreach services at help agencies throughout the Tri-State area on Monday, stranding homeless people at local shelters and shutting down food delivery services to the homebound.

The snow halted Meals-On-Wheels delivery in Washington County, Franklin County, Pa., and Jefferson County, W.Va.

"When the weather gets like this, people don't expect their meals. That would be putting (volunteer drivers') lives in danger," said Douglas Pheil, husband of Chambersburg, Pa.-based Meals-On-Wheels Director Connie Phiel.

"Our drivers get through some pretty rough stuff, but this is ridiculous," he said.

Treacherous road conditions canceled Meals-on-Wheels delivery in Washington County - which depends on volunteers to deliver daily meals to about 100 homebound people - and in Jefferson County, according to messages on the agencies' answering machines.


No information was available for the Berkeley County, W.Va., program on Monday. Officials at the Community Action Council, which oversees Washington County's Meals-On-Wheels program, could not be reached for comment.

Senior citizens who receive home food delivery from the Washington County Commission on Aging were given extra rations Friday in anticipation of the winter storm, said Fred Otto, the agency's executive director.

Workers for the Commission on Aging deliver 140 to 160 meals a week to homebound seniors, Otto said.

The heavy snow stranded more than 50 homeless people at the REACH cold weather shelter at St. John's Lutheran Church in Hagerstown early Monday, REACH Board Chairman James Martin said.

"They were snowed in all right, but everything seemed to go smoothly," he said. "They had enough food and nobody seemed to be getting cabin fever."

REACH - an acronym for Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless - normally operates its shelter from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The organization recently starting running a day shelter at New Light Metropolitan Community Church in downtown Hagerstown, but that shelter was closed Monday due to snow, Martin said.

Most of the homeless staying at the church on South Potomac Street over the snowy weekend took temporary jobs shoveling snow on Monday, and were expected to return to the shelter in the evening, Martin said.

The Martinsburg (W.Va.) Union Rescue Mission continued to offer free meals and lodging to homeless men Monday, but there was no noticeable increase in service users, said resident Danny Mills, who was answering the shelter's phone on Monday.

"We never close," Mills said.

Nearly 30 homeless women and children remained snowed in at Bethany House in Martinsburg on Monday, said Mary Carter, an employee at the 216 E. John St. shelter.

"I came in yesterday and I haven't gotten out yet," Carter said.

The executive director of the Interfaith Service Coalition in Hancock was trapped at home Monday, but Debbie Cohill said she felt confident that her agency's food bank clients would make it through the storm.

The coalition on Feb. 12 distributed weekly food rations to members of the Self Help in Partnership Program, which supplements low-income families' monthly food budgets with additional food in return for a small monthly fee and at least two volunteer hours each month, Cohill said.

The next distribution is slated for Wednesday, she said.

Crisis hot line workers at Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, or CASA, in Hagerstown took all calls for REACH and several other service agencies Monday, CASA employee Melissa Lake said.

"The office is closed but the hot line has to be manned 24 hours a day," Lake said.

Josh Wolfe, a direct care worker at the Franklin County Shelter for the Homeless, said he and residents were passing the day reading, playing chess and watching television Monday.

"We haven't had anybody new come in since the snowstorm," he said.

There were 11 people staying at the shelter at 223 S. Main St. in Chambersburg on Monday. It has a capacity of 24 people.

Wolfe said many of the residents tried to earn a little money by offering to shovel for nearby businesses, but since most were closed there was little interest.

Staff writer Stacey Danzuso contributed to this story.

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