His backpack on a table in front of him, the 60-year-old Stewart wore several layers of clothes and a heavy jacket, but it wasn’t enough to stave off the sub-freezing temperatures.
Stewart joined about 10 others inside the warming station at 420 Noble St., where hot meals and a chance to step inside from the cold drew them in one by one.
Stewart said in the many years he’s lived in Anniston he can’t recall a time when the temperature dropped so fast.
The National Weather Service forecast temperatures to fall into the single digits today with a low of 7 degrees, and 9 degrees Tuesday night. The days won't be much better with a high of 26 expected Tuesday before warming above freezing on Wednesday.
Many schools and public agencies have delayed opening to deal with the coldest temperatures. The Salvation Army today waived the normal $10 nightly fee for the homeless to use its overnight shelter, and the cities of Anniston, Jacksonville and Piedmont opened their own warming centers for residents who need to get out of the cold.
Stewart said he ate lunch at the center, and would eat dinner there as well. He could have stayed at the organization’s shelter overnight, he said, but he had a welcoming bed awaiting him with family.
“I’ll probably go to my aunt’s tonight,” Stewart said.
Kelly Grizzard, a Salvation Army worker, sat at a table inside the warming center greeting visitors today. She said she expected to spend tonight at the shelter as well, helping provide a safe, warm place for those in need.
“Everybody deserves a warm spot,” Grizzard said.
Salvation Army Capt. Bert Lind said 16 people spent Sunday night inside the organization’s shelter. He expects more will come as the temperature drops. Many wait until the last moment to ask for help, he said.
“Depending on the number of people that show up we’ll just keep putting cots up until we have no more space,” Lind said.
Lind said most people in the area aren’t used to the cold coming “this quick and for this length of time.”
The city of Anniston along with the American Red Cross and Interfaith Ministries today setup its own warming center at the Carver Community Center at 720 W. 14th St. Frazier Burroughs, the center’s director, said 28 cots, 20 of which were donated by the Red Cross, were set up in the center’s gymnasium. A television had been moved to the stage to allow visitors to monitor the weather as well as watch tonight’s BCS National Championship college football game between Auburn and Florida State. Snacks and bottled water had also been provided by Interfaith.
Burroughs said in more than 15 years working for Anniston’s Parks and Recreation Department, he could only recall one time the city setup a warming center.
“No one ended up coming,” Burroughs said. “But we’re hoping people who need it will come this time.”
Burroughs said the center will stay open through the night and into Wednesday with a staff as well as a police officer on duty. The building’s doors will close at 10:30 p.m. today and Tuesday except for emergencies.
Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he’s working with Interfaith Ministries to make the center a regular spot for residents who need someplace warm to go when the temperatures drop.
“We’re seeing if we can make this a permanent place,” Stewart said. “So when the temperature hits a certain number, the public knows where they can go.”
Visitors to the Jacksonville Community Center at 501 Alexandria Road S.W. today were given hot chocolate and coffee. The warming station there will remain open until Wednesday evening.
Janis Burns, Jacksonville’s Parks and Recreation Department director, stressed that sleeping cots will be provided, but no meals.
“We might not have anybody,” Burns said this afternoon, but the center will be open just in case.
“We just don’t want people to sit in the cold,” Burns said. “We want to make it convenient for our residents.”
Jacksonville Senior Center director Andrea Morris said the agency’s van will pick up seniors in need of transportation to the Community Center’s emergency shelter.
“If they don’t have heat and they don’t have transportation we’ll be going and getting them,” Morris said.
She wasn’t aware this afternoon of any seniors in need of a warm bed, but “it just depends on what the weather brings. If they get home and there’s no power, we’ll bus them here if needed.”
The only people inside the Piedmont Civic Center this afternoon were there to play basketball and work out, but the facility will remain open until Wednesday night for anyone who needs to get out of the cold, said civic center employee Tommy Ballew.
Anniston residents who want more information should contact City Hall at 256-236-8221. Jacksonville residents should contact the Community Center at 256-435-3427. Piedmont residents should contact City Hall at 256-447-3563.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.