Last week’s ice storm left people across the city and the state scrambling to stay safe and warm. At the same time, homeless shelters and other social service agencies that also lost power were trying keep their programs going. One was the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which lost electricity to all but one a dozen heated buildings. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer visited its campus in Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood.
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Your bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” A volunteer working in the kitchen at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul leads a prayer. “Enjoy your meal,” he says.
It’s lunchtime at St. Vincent de Paul’s cavernous kitchen and cafeteria, which used to be a church. After the ice storm, the agency counted nearly 400 people coming for most meals, double the number of people who usually come. Homeless people — and people from the neighborhood without power and in need of food — line up. Like other agencies helping the homeless, St. Vincent de Paul also filled nearly all available beds.
In a room just off the cafeteria, I ask Ed Wnorowski, the agency’s executive director, how the staff has been coping.
“We missed one meal — that was Wednesday. We served lunch, but we didn’t have the resources to do dinner. But what we did do — we get a lot of donated White Castles — so they were available to be microwaved. We bought a very large diameter cable and we strung the cable from the panel from the men’s emergency shelter to this building. That’s keeping our freezers running, so we don’t lose the food. And it’s powering the lights, but it’s not enough energy to operate the electric cooking appliances. We’re running five generators on campus and obviously we’re running overtime, in particular for the maintenance staff.”
Then Wnorowski takes leads me down an icy path to a nearby building. It’s a residential hall for women in the agency’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. There is a flurry of activity in the entryway, and behind a desk is Kim Robinson, a social worker with the program.
“The phone is ringing off the hook. The door needs to be answered,” says Wnorowski.
“You know, and a lot of our clients aren’t here,” Robinson says, “because we allowed them to go on pass if they had a safe person that they could go and stay overnight with, and they have to call in everyday and check in. And to be out there and to be exposed to all those dangers and behaviors puts them at a higher risk of relapse. So, it’s pretty much at a standstill as far as case management is concerned.”
“So it’s stay warm and stay safe,” Wnorowski says..
And the visitors and staff at St. Vincent de Paul did just that. By the end of the weekend, power had been restored to almost all of the buildings at the campus, and nearly all the residents had returned.