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The Suburbanite
  • Stark County residents brace for historic cold

  • Cold temperatures will continue Tuesday as schools, some government offices remain closed
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  • Chris and Kelly Smith walked from their apartment behind the Walmart on U.S. Route 62 to downtown Canton on Monday morning to go to a few doctor appointments. If it weren't for a makeshift shelter inside Memorial Civic Center, the couple doubts they would have made it through the night alive.
    The blistering cold temperatures and arctic-like wind chills that paralyzed most of the country will continue today as temperatures in Stark County are expected to climb no higher than 1 degree. Wind chills capable of frost-biting bare skin in minutes could plummet to minus 47 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
    Schools, sporting events, government meetings and some government offices were shuttered as worries mounted over the associated health risks.
    Canton set up warming centers at the Civic Center and Southeast Community Center to give refuge to those with nowhere else to go.
    "Because people knew this was coming, most have made arrangements to be somewhere," said Aaron Bell, a member of First Christian Church who was organizing relief efforts at the Civic Center.
    Bell and a flock of church volunteers far outnumbered Chris and Kelly Smith, the only two people inside the warming center as of 8:30 p.m. Bell said he took that as a sign everyone had already hunkered down. The church drummed up so much support through a Facebook solicitation that it had more than 1,000 donated blankets to pass out if need be, and dozens of coats, hats and gloves, too.
    The extras will be taken to area shelters and given away by the church's thrift store, said Bell, an event coordinator for the church.
    FROZEN
    The Smiths' journey began at 6 a.m. Monday, when temperatures were about normal. They made the trek, by foot, to the McDonalds on Tuscarawas Street and Walnut Avenue by 7:30 a.m. They are without a car, and without jobs. Chris has a brain tumor and Kelly spends most of her time taking care of him. They walk everywhere and had planned to walk home Monday night until they learned about the shelter.
    "Probably would have froze to death," said Kelly, an Arkansas native who wore three sweatshirts to stay warm.
    But conditions at home might not have been much better, said Chris, who hails from Tennessee. The heat in their apartment only runs in five-minute bursts and they've been staying warm at night with candles and a tiny propane heater. They felt blessed to have blankets to keep them warm and cots to sleep on.
    "Thank God for these people," Chris said. "Thank God for them all."
    TAKING REFUGE
    Blocks away, Refuge of Hope Ministries, a men's shelter, prepared extra cots and opened its dining room for the night accommodate more people ahead of the arctic blast. A registered nurse was called in to check people's blood pressure and blood sugar. Bagged lunches were prepared to keep anyone who left the shelter fed until they could return. The men's shelter also dropped normal requirements, like passing a breathalyzer, to stay the night.
    Page 2 of 2 - "We're not going to turn anybody away in this kind of weather," Executive Director Duane Wykoff said. "We've had quite a few calls. Some people have come in with no place to stay."
    Jonathan Bailey, who is homeless, can recall several frigid nights that he spent sleeping on a bench.
    "It's a pretty nasty, bitter cold that we haven't had in awhile," said the 48-year-old Bailey, who took in a warm meal at the shelter's dining room at 405 Third St. NE, where he planned to sleep for the night. "I haven't gone anywhere in the past few days preparing for this and I'm not planning to go anywhere until it's gone. ... This is some killing cold here."
    Reach Matt at 330-580-8527 On Twitter: @mrinkREP