Posts Tagged ‘cold weather shelter’

by Steve Blanchard

Duane Merrill was a mainstay in Richmond’s First Baptist Church’s Community Missions ministry for many years. We first met Duane when he came to FBC as a participant in Community Missions. He had experienced homelessness over the years and came to FBC to receive a hot meal at Grace Fellowship on Thursday nights and to take showers on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Duane quickly became much more than just a participant; he became part of our FBC family through his willingness to volunteer with the Compassion Ministry even while participating in the programs. He was a quiet individual but was always on the lookout for ways to help others. He even served as the custodian for the shower ministry.

In the winter of 2017, during a long period of frigid weather accompanied by snow, Duane awoke one morning in his tent by the James River and found that he was suffering from extreme frostbite, which resulted in the amputation of both of his legs below the knees. After extensive hospitalization and therapy, Duane received prosthetic legs and was trying to adjust to his new way of living. Several members of the church helped Duane in a variety of ways, however, the emotional struggles from past and present issues overcame Duane, and he passed away on July 16, 2018.

Duane's DenDuane had become so much more than just a participant in the programs offered through the Compassion Ministry so it was in the latter part of November 2018 that Charlie Ball, Bonnie Wilmoth, and I began to think of a way we could help other homeless individuals during extreme frigid weather so that Duane’s initial situation might not be repeated. The idea of establishing an emergency shelter to help others in this particular crisis began to take hold. As the idea developed, we decided to name the project Duane’s Den to recognize Duane’s deep commitment to the Compassion Ministry. On Wednesday, January 30, Duane’s Den opened unexpectedly during a particularly frigid evening. The first night seven people stayed in the shelter as we only began announcing it that day. However, the next evening it housed twenty-seven.

The shelter will function much like the CARITAS shelter that FBC operated for years in July and November where we, as a partner church, housed and fed anywhere from 35-110 people at a time for one week. Duane’s Den will operate slightly differently in that we will not offer meals or showers except during extended stays. It will simply be a safe, warm place for the homeless to find shelter when the temperature or wind chill drops below 15 degrees, or in the event of a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado or severe snowstorm. The shelter will open at 6:00 p.m. and will close the following morning at 7:00 a.m. Hours may be extended in the case of a natural disaster or snowstorm. The shelter has a capacity of 50 individuals.

Duane’s Den, established in Duane Merrill’s memory, honors the life of a quiet, gentle, compassionate man who became part of our FBC family.

Duane Merrill


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