DALLAS — In any other year, Rev. Rachel Baughman would have spent the last few days preparing Oak Lawn United Methodist Church to act as a shelter from the bitter cold about to descend upon Dallas.
On frigid nights pre-pandemic, about 85 people would typically take her church up on the offer of a warm meal, group prayer, and a temporary cot.
This February deep freeze – a week of frigid temperatures is in the forecast for North Texas – comes in the middle of a global pandemic.
Oak Lawn United Methodist won’t become a shelter. The church hasn’t even returned to in-person worship services.
But it is determined to maintain its ministry to the most vulnerable.
“The way we’re doing it this year is very different than previous years,” Baughman said.
“We figured out housing people in individual hotel rooms would be a more viable option and safer for everyone.”
Oak Lawn United Methodist partners with several other agencies in Dallas to purchase hotel rooms.
Baughman said they started raising money for the effort months ago knowing this winter would require a significant amount of financial support.
But the money they raised has run out.
“It costs between $10,000 and $15,000 for us to shelter each night. With the funding we currently have and the nights we know we have to provide this week, we’ll be about $45,000 short," she said.
Baughman said coats and gloves are always nice donations, but money would do the most good right now.
If you’d like to assist, Oak Lawn United Methodist Church is accepting donations on its website.
In Fort Worth, Presbyterian Night Shelter CEO Toby Owen says blankets, towels, coats, gloves, hats and scarves are in great demand right now.
You can go to Presbyterian Night Shelter’s website to make a monetary donation, or you can drop things off at 2400 Cypress St. in Fort Worth, two blocks south of East Lancaster in the last building on the right.
“It’s always a difficult time to be homeless, but it is extremely hard living in a pandemic and now with a week’s worth of cold weather,” Owen said.
COVID-19 social distancing protocols forced Presbyterian Night Shelter to cut back on the number of clients it can serve.
“For our men’s building, it means we had to decrease our capacity about 50 percent and at our women’s shelter we had to decrease capacity about 30 percent,” Owen said.
“Thankfully the city of Fort Worth has a cold weather overflow shelter and it’s open. There will be space available for those who want to go inside,” he said.
Owen said Presbyterian Night Shelter has not seen a spike in demand for services during the pandemic, but he is concerned once national eviction moratoriums are lifted numbers will increase.
Baughman urges anyone who can’t afford to make a donation to remember to spread the word if they spot a homeless person struggling through a cold day or night on the streets of Dallas.
“This is going to require everybody pitching in and making sure we share in the blessings and privileges that we all have,” Baughman said.