Morningstar’s warming centre to open Dec. 19, volunteers needed

Morningstar Mission, located at 58 Water St. W in Napanee.

Adam Prudhomme

Winter weather arrived in Lennox and Addington this week, a full month ahead of the scheduled opening of the Morningstar Mission’s warming centre.

Morningstar Mission executive director Kevin Alkenbrack had hoped to open the doors in November, but the Mission was unable to secure any additional funding on top of the $100,000 provided by L&A County. That means the overnight warming centre, housed at 58 Water St. W, won’t be fully operational until Dec. 19. Following its opening, the shelter will run nightly through March 31.

During a deputation before Greater Napanee council in September, Alkenbrack sought $48,000 in funding for the warming centre.

“Relative to what we’ve done that’s quite an increase, but in the past we were trying to just allow for the minimal staffing to be open overnight,” said Alkenbrack. “What was happening is we were open from 8:30 p.m. last year until 7:30 a.m. That’s quite traumatic for the clients and the staff and the volunteers that it could be snowing or raining and bitterly cold and out they go at 7:30 a.m.”

The frigid temperatures of January don’t give way with the sunrise. When clients leave the shelter in the morning they’re left with very few options to get in from the cold. Morningstar has done its part to help mitigate that shortfall with gap programs such as staying open later three mornings a week for breakfast as well as opening at 6 p.m. on select nights when they can get the staffing.

“Part of why it was going to be more expensive this year was that I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to rely on volunteers,” said Alkenbrack. “That we could use staff to extend our hours and stay to 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. and get open at 6 p.m. and do that seven days a week and also had included in that paid cleaning staff.”

Also stretching the budget this year is a series of renovations that were done to the section of the building that houses the warming centre, which included a bathroom and the addition of a vestibule that both acts as a barrier against the cold when people enter the building and helps to screen visitors for COVID-19.

“The goal is for at least the next three to five years that space could be used year after year for the warming centre,” said Alkenbrack.

Morningstar Mission’s warming centre resting pods.

Volunteers will once again be needed to play a major role in the operating of the warming centre.

“We are going to be looking for volunteers this year to help us clean because we have to do deep clean every day,” said Alkenbrack. “I don’t have money for staff so that’s a volunteer role that could be done. We train them and give them the proper PPE that they need and then teach them how to do a deep clean in the space and that has to happen seven days a week.”

Those looking to help can drop by the shelter or contact volunteer coordinator Debbie Pereira at 613-354-6355 or reach out through their Facebook page. Monetary donations are also a huge help and can be made online at or through cash and cheque to the centre.

While the overnight shelter’s season is on the horizon, there’s still plenty of hardship for those living rough right now.

“I’m personally aware of 10 individuals who are living on the street right now,” said Alkenbrack. “I have probably handed out somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60 tents since April. I continue to have requests for tents because they don’t do well when it pours rain. I had one person reach out to me and say that their tent was like a swimming pool.”

Morningstar does help those individuals as best they can with their current staffing resources.

“Because we’re open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the people who are living rough are coming to access a hot meal and a coffee and if they want to take a shower they can,” said Alkenbrack. “That’s what having so many volunteers and staff be able to greet people 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (allows the centre to do). That makes a huge difference to people who are living rough on the streets. But all that does is give them somewhere to go (during operating hours) when they wake up on the streets.”

COVID-19, inflation and the cost of housing have made for a nasty cocktail that means more people than ever are likely to need a place like the warming centre to stay at some point this winter. Last year the centre saw 437 overnight rest pods assigned to 48 unique individuals. According to data kept by the L&A County, there are over 80 individuals living within their borders who identify as homeless.

“This is just the front end of the crisis,” said Alkenbrack. “The front end of the tsunami. It’s not a question of when the difficulties are coming, they’re here. The question is how far reaching is it going to be. How high will interest rates go? How many people will go bankrupt, lose their home? Those in apartments given two months notice and then not able to find anything.”

-To help raise funds for the warming centre the Mission will be hosting a fundraising roast beef dinner on Dec. 11 in their dining hall. Tickets are $25 with take-out available and the menu includes roast beef, mashed potatoes, vegetables, casserole, cole slaw and dessert. Tickets are available at Morningstar’s office of by calling 613-354-6355.

-The Mission will be running its Christmas backpack program this year, calling on the community for donations of backpacks filled with candy, juice boxes, snack bars, cookies, hats, gloves, scarves, socks, razors, shampoo, soap, liquid body wash, toothbrushes and toothpaste. The backpacks can be labeled with a blue or pink ribbon for male or female and dropped off to the mission Dec. 19-23, included with a Christmas card greeting.

-On Dec. 25 this Mission will host a free Christmas dinner, complete with a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. All are welcome and dinner will be served at 1 p.m. in the Mission dining hall.

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