Merlene Davis: Now's a good time to commit to Walk for Warmth

It's cold. Very, very cold.

But I can find some warmth at my workplace, in my car and especially in my sitting room, where I control the fireplace.

A lot of working people in Lexington aren't as fortunate. Or, if they do have heat and a place to stay, they might be living in fear of losing one or both because of a financial shortage.

It is that group of people that the Lexington Rescue Mission's sixth annual Walk for Warmth is hoping to help.

Natalie Cunningham, spokeswoman for the mission, said the organization tries to help working people who are at risk of being evicted or of having their utilities shutoff. What the mission offers, she said, is not a windfall but a helping hand through the organization's Homelessness Prevention Program.

"It is an emergency assistance program," Cunningham said. "Everyone who gets assistance has to have some kind of income."

Even with the income, a person might face reduced work hours, a medical crisis or something that puts him or her behind financially.

"If they qualify, we give them $100 and help them network with other agencies to make sure the entire bill is paid," she said. An unemployed applicant is ineligible for the program.

The agency takes requests on the first Tuesday of the month for the prevention program, and it fills up quickly. On that one day, the mission can get 60 to 100 calls for the available appointment slots.

In addition to the money, applicants can take advantage of the mission's other programs, including budget counseling and case management.

Cunningham said 230 people participated in last year's walk, which raised $13,000. With that money, plus donations from three churches, the mission was able to help 75 families with utility bills and keep 80 families in their homes.

"We would like to raise closer to $15,000 so we can help more people," Cunningham said about this year's Walk for Warmth. "The walk raises awareness that there are so many people in town who are struggling. We get a lot of calls when it gets this cold."

To reach the goal of $15,000, the mission requires a $25 registration fee for the first time for any walk participants older than 12.

The deadline for registration and donations, and to qualify for a T-shirt and prizes, is Feb. 20. The walk starts at 11 a.m. Feb. 22 in Triangle Park. On-site registration is at 10 a.m.

The one- and two-mile walks start at Triangle Park and head north, Cunningham said, and they end at Calvary Baptist Church, 150 East High Street, with the awards presentations and a free lunch.

"We pick a different route every year," she said. "We will go as far north as we can so that they can see what Lexington is about. Some people don't necessarily see the problems."

The Lexington Rescue Mission is a non-profit organization that provides free hot lunches from noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at its outreach center, 444 Glen Arvin Avenue.

It also has a thrift store, counseling, a health clinic for the uninsured, and transitional housing for men and women in recovery.

The mission began in 2001, when Jim and Becky Connell left Columbus, Ind., and came to Lexington to start a ministry to the poor and homeless. Their mission was to "serve and glorify God through Christ-centered ministry that meets the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of hurting people in the greater Lexington area."

Maybe in a month, when the walk is scheduled, the weather will be warmer. I hope so. Either way, we should lend a hand. It might not be us in need this time, but maybe it was us in the past or it could be us in the future.