A s weather predictions became more and more certain, we all braced for the harsh cold that would sweep over Pine Bluff last week. For some, however, the ability to prepare for the coming cold was a difficult prospect that could have proved calamitous. In response to this need, the city of Pine Bluff opened a temporary 24-hour warming center in the Detective Kevin D. Collins Center that operated between Jan. 14-19.
Admittance to the center was provided free of charge to anyone who needed shelter. We want to express our deepest gratitude to every person, business, and organization who made this mission possible. Your support was immense.
This was the first such undertaking held in the Collins Center since it opened in October 2023, and it was especially fitting because of Detective Collins' love for protecting and serving the people of Pine Bluff.
During the past seven years, other emergency shelters have been held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. We usually set up for 50 people and actually service four or five. During this event we set up for 12 and some nights we filled up to 20 cots.
More than 300 meals were served over the five-day period. On Sunday evening Rice First Class Catering delivered a generous donation of baked chicken, meatloaf, chicken spaghetti casserole, purple hull peas, turnip greens, candied yams, cornbread, and desserts.
Debra Allen of the Living Grace Food Pantry sent snacks and beverages of all kinds, and Pat Tate of Neighbor to Neighbor donated five hams. A cold day favorite dish, hot chili, was provided by Kameron's Kitchen. The guests and volunteers also enjoyed breakfast sandwiches donated by McDonald's on Olive Street.
Because of this outpouring of kindness, guests were both warm and well fed.
Approximately 20 individuals contributed time as volunteers to man the shelter, working shifts that covered day and night to assist with whatever needs arose. Other citizens supported the efforts by dropping off critical items such as blankets, clothes, hygiene products, and puzzles and games for entertainment.
In terms of safety and security, Pine Bluff police officers and Chief Denise Richardson offered exceptional law enforcement protection from start to finish. All of these caring, dedicated actions were vital to the well-being of guests in attendance.
The city is currently preparing to support people who do not have shelter throughout the year, not only during weather emergencies. The old First Ward School building is being renovated and will become a permanent shelter called the Opportunity House. An operator, Depaul USA, has been identified to manage the facility. Food, showers, and other support services will be available. The city will continue to collaborate with other local organizations such as CASA, Salvation Army, and Neighbor to Neighbor to help individuals access additional services.
At the heart of it all, Pine Bluff is a special place. Whenever people and their families need help, our community rallies in amazing ways to assist however needed. On behalf of the city of Pine Bluff, we appreciate your warm embrace of support. May God bless each of you. May God bless the city of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Shirley Washington is mayor of Pine Bluff.