PORT TOWNSEND — At the newly open Winter Welcoming Center, staffer Lisa Anderson might do some modeling.
“We got a lot of donated hats last year. You’d be surprised what people donate,” she said Friday, the center’s first day of operation for the 2021-2022 season.
One of these toppers looks “like a big marshmallow,” and Anderson planned to show it off on Saturday. Besides the humorous headwear, she’s serious about making this place — a refuge for people who have no shelter — live up to that welcoming part.
The Winter Welcoming Center, at the Pope Marine Building on Water Street at Madison Street, will stay open every day including holidays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through the winter.
Guests must show proof of vaccination against COVID-19; the center’s staff and volunteers are also fully immunized, said coordinator Julia Cochrane. Masks are required, and a box of free ones sits on the front table.
“It’s been a big goal of ours to keep everyone as safe as possible,” added Paul Heins, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church that has facilitated the center for four winters now.
Coffee, packaged snacks, bathrooms, wi-fi and electricity for phone-charging are free at the Winter Welcoming Center.
So is hospitality, offered by Anderson, her partner Ben Casserd and their 13-year-old Yorkshire terrier-Shih Tzu mix, Half Pint. They are the paid staff monitors who, along with the volunteer crew, will keep the center open throughout the season of cold, wind, rain and snow.
Leashed pets are welcome, and if the weather becomes especially severe on any given day, the center’s hosts will extend the hours into late afternoon, Cochrane said.
With the Pope Marine Building location, the challenge is to spread the word to people who live in their vehicles or camp in other parts of town. While the Jefferson County and Port Townsend public libraries also provide heated havens, the Winter Welcoming Center is open earlier in the morning seven days a week.
The Jefferson Interfaith Action Coalition, a registered nonprofit of which First Presbyterian is a part, is leasing the building from the city of Port Townsend. The city is providing the space rent-free.
To be a success, the center needs more volunteers, Cochrane said. Donations of hand-warmers, individually packaged snacks, ground coffee and sugar are also welcome, as are monetary gifts. To donate, visit the First Presbyterian Church’s webpage: www.fpcpt.org/welcomingcenter.
For information about volunteering, contact Cochrane at [email protected] or 360-821-1926. The center will operate for the next three months, and “we may go into April if the weather is really inclement. We’re talking to the city about that,” she said.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]