For once, it’s OK to sleep in church.
And that’s what people have been doing this week to find shelter from an ice storm that battered Hall County on Monday and has left thousands of people without power.
“I thank God for the American Red Cross because they have been a big help through this transition,” said Kesha Ellison, staying at First Baptist Gainesville on Green Street.
Her ordeal began Monday night, when her mother woke her up and said power was out in her Gainesville home.
“I got the kids together and we put blankets and blankets on top of the bed for the first night,” she said.
But then Ellison grew concerned about a second night without power, especially with two daughters, 6 and 8, and a 1-year-old son. So, after hearing word the church shelter was open, she knew where she was going to spend Tuesday night.
“I was telling my mom, ‘If it were just me and you, we could kind of hold it together and keep warm, but children can’t handle all this cold,’” she said. “We have to be somewhere for the children. That was my main concern.”
The American Red Cross is working with First Baptist to provide not only a place to sleep — in the church’s Family Life Center — but meals, snacks and just shelter from the frigid cold.
The Red Cross was working out similar arrangements at a church in Cumming and at the Commerce Civic Center.
Fifteen people stayed Tuesday night at First Baptist. Others showed up as well but “either found other accommodations or they got power back,” Red Cross volunteer Tim Hayes said.
Flat Creek Baptist Church off Flat Creek Road in West Hall opened Wednesday to accept folks seeking shelter, taking over as Poplar Springs Baptist Church in South Hall was closing its shelter.
Church workers already gearing up to serve a hot meal for regular Wednesday service attendees were preparing to feed more people, pastor Mike Taylor said.
“I’ve got church people without power and last night I had a mom who had burned all the firewood and was burning paper,” he said, explaining the motivation for providing a shelter.
Taylor said he figured the church could help “not just our own but anybody who needs somewhere to be.”
“My concern today was with ice on the trees and an uptick in the wind, we may get into a relapse,” Taylor said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re kind of out on a limb ourselves; if we lose power, we’re going to have to punt.”
The church doesn’t have generators, “but we have people who do, so we might be able to scrounge something up,” as needed, he said.
For some, the struggle to stay warm is a little more serious situation.
Marsha Robertson of Dahlonega said she was worried about her parents who live in an East Hall neighborhood where power has been out the past few days.
“They want to stay home and I’ve done what I could for (them), but we rode around (the street) and talked to several of the elderly people that were out there, and they don’t have anybody to help them,” Robertson said.
Misty Campbell of East Hall said her family lost power at 9:30 p.m. Monday but has managed to stay warm with blankets and kerosene heaters.
One concern has been that her daughter has asthma and “the kerosene is really getting to her,” she said.
Otherwise, the heating sources are “working OK,” Campbell said. “I just wish the food wasn’t ruining.”
Her family has been eating sandwiches and going out for food.
As Wednesday progressed and activity picked up at Flat Creek Baptist, Taylor said one couple joined church members for the evening meal.
“They’ve got a fireplace (at home),” he said. “They just needed to get out. They were tired of eating sandwiches.”
The church got a call from Northeast Georgia Medical Center asking about availability for a patient being discharged who had no heat at home.
“We could have a husband and wife show up shortly,” Taylor said, referring to that situation.
He said he heard a statistic that 27 percent of Hall County residents were still without power, “so we could have quite a crowd.”
Joe Figueredo, Red Cross volunteer and manager of the First Baptist shelter, said about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday that 20 people had shown up, but if outside temperatures plunge as expected, people would show up “in carloads.”