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story.lead_photo.caption John Doyle (right) serves Michael Williams while serving the evening meal Tuesday at the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter in Bentonville. The Salvation Army of Northwest Arkansas has served roughly 70 to 80 meals per night this holiday season and kept its overnight shelters open for those seeking refuge from the cold.

Shelters reach capacity, seniors become increasingly isolated and the risk of house fires rises when winter hits, agencies helping Northwest Arkansas' most vulnerable populations said Tuesday.

Winter has come, according to meteorologist Peter Snyder with the National Weather Service in Tulsa.

Red Kettle campaign

• As of Tuesday, the Salvation Army of Northwest Arkansas has collected $352,185 of its $420,000 goal, about 84 percent.

• Donations accepted until Sunday. Go online at, text NWA to 41444 or mail a check to Salvation Army of NWA, 219 W. 15th St., Fayetteville, AR 72701.

• Money collected as part of the Red Kettle campaign stays local.

• As a national average, 82 cents of every dollar the Salvation Army spends goes directly to support community service programs, with the rest covering administrative costs.

Source: Staff report

"It'll be cold New Year's Day," he said. "It may not even exceed 20 degrees for a high temperature."

The temperature dropped about 40 degrees from Thursday to this weekend, when most residents in the region woke up to a sheer cover of snow.

Friday's high of 40 should mark the balmiest day of the week. Expect the air to stay just above freezing Saturday and continue to drop. No precipitation is in sight, however.

The Salvation Army's two overnight shelters in Bentonville and Fayetteville have filled to capacity since the cold arrived. The Bentonville shelter has space for 46 people to sleep in beds, and the Fayetteville shelter has 26 beds, spokeswoman Jennifer Brown said. The organization also will open warming centers and spaces with cots when the temperature drops below 34 degrees.

Kitchen staff served about 70 to 80 meals a night. The organization also helps set up utility assistance. Droves of people visited the shelters Christmas Eve and Day, with low temperatures hitting 19 degrees. The charity expects to serve more, Brown said.

"It becomes a life and death situation when the weather gets cold," she said.

The 7 Hills Day Center in Fayetteville has served 100 to 150 people per day with meals, clothes, showers and case management, said Daniel Robertson, site coordinator. Winter gets especially hectic because the need goes up and volunteers, mostly college students, become scarce.

Robertson guessed he has seen about six to nine new faces each day for the last six months. A sizable Christmastime donation allowed center staff to give out about 40 sleeping bags and tents. The center stays open during the day, but closes at night.

"We just try to figure out what exactly they need, and we try to do our best to point them to those resources that we have," Robertson said.

This week's forecast weighs on Brad Bailey, chief operations officer for Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Arkansas. The agency operates about 20 senior centers and associated programs, such as Meals on Wheels, in nine counties.

Agency staff and volunteers pay extra attention to in-home care residents who may not have a stable support system otherwise, Bailey said. Senior centers serve as warming stations. Meals on Wheels volunteers pack extra food in case the roads get bad.

The agency will gladly refer a resident to a utility assistance program to offset the cost of keeping a house warm, Bailey said. Alternative heating methods, such as a space heater or electric blanket, can add an extra element of danger, he said.

"We're constantly helping low-income folks," Bailey said. "For our shut-in clients, we try to make extra phone calls to them, and if we can't get hold of them, we'll make a home visit to check on them."

Rogers Fire Chief Tom Jenkins said residents below the poverty line in Northwest Arkansas tend to have more of a fire risk than others. Space heaters can be tipped over and electric blankets can malfunction, he said. Plus, ovens are built to cook food, not heat homes.

Residents often think those methods cost less, Jenkins said. But a stove, blanket or space heater runs a bill just as high, he said. The potential problems compound without a smoke detector in the home. Most fire departments in the area offer the devices free and will usually install them, Jenkins said.

"It comes down to good old fashioned common sense and good old fashioned taking care of your neighbor," he said.

Photo by NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF
Shelbi Fowler of Bentonville volunteers to help in the kitchen Tuesday while serving the evening meal at the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter in Bentonville.

NW News on 12/27/2017

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