POCATELLO — When the temperature is frigid or snow is blanketing the area, the Pocatello First Congregational United Church of Christ wants the homeless to know a reprieve is being offered.
The church has been opening its doors from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to homeless on days the temperature isn’t predicted to rise above freezing or during a snowstorm at that five-hour juncture Monday through Friday.
First Congregational, located at 309 N. Garfield Ave. in Pocatello, utilizes it gym, where those in need enter for warmth, movies, books, puzzles and seats to rest.
“We call it loaves and fishes,” said First Congregational Pastor Starr Reardon. “You know like the miracle that Jesus had where he multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed 5,000 people. That’s kind of the idea because we’re starting with little, but then it’s just grown.”
Reardon said it is the first time in recent memory that the church has had what she calls a “warming shelter,” which is run on donations and launched in November.
The church also has donated clothing among other items for visitors in need and helps guide them in the right direction for tasks like obtaining a gas voucher.
A sign is put up to announce when the gym’s doors are open. Reardon said she calls the Pocatello, Chubbuck and state police to alert them when they can bring homeless to her church.
“People usually come and go. They don’t stay the whole day,” Reardon said. “They come in, they get warmed up and they get a cup of coffee or a cup of cocoa and they go on their way.”
Reardon implemented this project for the church in November — about a year after stepping in as pastor. She saw the benefits of the idea at the Pocatello First Baptist Church’s warming area at 408 N. Arthur Ave., where she volunteered.
First Baptist opens from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. when the temperature is below 15 degrees, and it has enough volunteers. A sign is put up when it’s open.
“They have a great program,” Reardon said. “They’re offering a safe place for people overnight. We’re trying to do the same thing during the day.”
Reardon said as many as six people per day step into First Congregational to warm up. She hopes exposure for the shelter will bring more. She also said she welcomes volunteers, as she sometimes has to work from the gym because she doesn’t have anyone to look after the guests.
“We’re starting small and we know out of small things great miracles can happen,” Reardon said. “I do hope we continue to grow. It’s a brand new service, so we’ll just have to see where it goes. I think there’s a need for it in Old Town. I really do.”