Patricia Lewis hasn’t felt this cold since she was a child.
The 60-year-old homeless woman was in line for a hot breakfast Thursday morning at Daybreak, where more than a dozen people found shelter overnight from the bitter arctic air.
“They were open last night?” asked Lewis, who sprung for a motel room on Eisenhower Parkway from her limited resources.
She couldn’t bear to stay on the streets in single-digit wind chills.
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“It freezes the very skin, the very breath that comes out of your mouth. You have to make sure you keep your mouth closed,” Lewis said. “It’s really horrible, and it can cause your skin to break and peel and crack. Frostbite is real bad. It can make you real, real sick and crippled.”
Once the Salvation Army’s lodge filled up Wednesday afternoon, the day center for the homeless stayed open all night.
Cots and blankets from the American Red Cross kept folks warm in the hallway of the facility on Walnut Street near the entrance to Central City Park.
Although the center usually doesn’t open until 7:30 a.m., Don O’Neal unlocked the gates at 6 a.m.
“Just to let them come in, and we had coffee already going,” O’Neal said. “Normally Thursday is a light breakfast, but because it’s so cold, we thought we would give them something hot.”
Volunteer Carol Cook arrived just in time with a bunch of hot mini corn dogs to add to the buffet.
Volunteer Derek Stokes, who stayed the night to help, was stirring a large pot of grits and ham as the crowd tripled to nearly three dozen as the food line opened.
“I’m going to take a three-hour nap and go again,” said Stokes, who has been working with Daybreak for about a year.
Through the night, pastries from Panera Bread arrived as did a large pot of potato soup from chef Paul Harpin.
The outpouring of support warmed the heart of Sister Catherine Brown, who arrived in Macon about six months ago to become director of Daybreak’s medical clinic.
“The people of Macon are very caring people and share what they have,” Brown said.
She is seeking medical professionals to volunteer to work very occasional overnight shifts in case of an emergency during extreme cold.
“Because of the cold, people have more heart attacks and strokes,” Brown said. “We look to put that together for the coming year.”
With temperatures barely getting above freezing before plunging to the low 20s Friday morning, Daybreak is expected to be open overnight Thursday and Friday to handle overflow from the Salvation Army and provide shelter for people like Lewis, who hopes to find a permanent place to stay through the Macon Housing Authority.
“When they have intemperate weather if they could stay open longer and for more hours it would be really good,” Lewis said of Daybreak.
“It’s a relief. It’s a privilege, and it’s a godsend.”