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‘People are dying from it:’ Milwaukee’s St. Mark AME Church transformed into warming shelter

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MILWAUKEE -- The doors were opened at churches in the Milwaukee area amid dangerous cold and a wind chill warning for all of southeast Wisconsin on Wednesday, Jan. 30. Church leaders at St. Mark AME Church near Atkinson and Capitol in Milwaukee said their goal wasn't just to warm people's bodies, but their hearts as well.

Volunteers were on hand at the church Wednesday to simply talk with visitors and let them know people care.

With the deep freeze settling in, relief was just beyond the doors at St. Mark AME Church.

Lucretia Hightower

"The temperatures are so frigid. People are getting frostbite. People are dying from it," said Lucretia Hightower.

Hightower said she saw a need in the community, and helped convert the church's basement into a warming shelter.

"We do have the space here. We do have the resources," said Hightower.

Volunteers were on hand to cook and play games, and there was even a space for yoga. The church, transformed into a shelter, brought both comfort and concern for Hightower. As of Wednesday afternoon, no one had shown up to use it.

"Is it because their needs have been met and found a place to keep warm, or has the word actually reached them?" said Hightower.

Leaders at Unity Gospel House of Prayer planned to open Wednesday, but car trouble delayed that.

Meanwhile, officials at Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin said their Meals on Wheels deliveries were canceled Wednesday. They said some 1,400 who rely on food from the program were visited during extensive welfare checks on Tuesday, with meals doubled ahead of time.

Pastor Joy Gallmon

Back at St. Mark AME Church, Pastor Joy Gallmon was experiencing her first frost, and said it's important to help others left out in the brutal weather.

"I moved here last year from Florida in October. I'm still here! It is our responsibility to make sure not only people's heart strings should be warm, but also that their body is warm as well," said Gallmon.

The warming shelter at the church was scheduled to be open until 6 p.m. Wednesday, and all were invited to stop in.

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