Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, on Michigan City’s west side, in the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church, our shelter was tested this past weekend during the record-setting snowfall last Friday and Saturday. Nest remained open during the snow storm, something that many other area supporting organizations were unable to do as a result of the dangerous, unanticipated severity of the storm. As the snow piled up and temperatures plummeted, our shelter not only remained open but expanded our services, showcasing the incredible power of community solidarity in the face of a challenging, and potentially deadly situation.

The storm, with its biting winds and relentless snowfall, brought life to a standstill on Friday, January 19th  and on Saturday, January 20th. What was originally forecasted to be a lake-effect event with snow totals around 9-12 inches ended up being so much more than anyone expected. As hearty lifelong residents of the area, shelter staff and volunteers were prepared for the routine snow event, but as the snow began to fall, and did not let up for more than 24 hours, roads became impassable, and many found themselves stranded in the unforgiving elements. In the midst of this crisis, our shelter emerged as a lifeline for those in need, taking in all who arrived in need of shelter and warmth. With the timing and intensity of the storm, most of our partnering organizations, and warming shelters simply could not open safely, leaving Nest to be a beacon for those in need during the storm.

On a normal day at Nest Community Shelter, we welcome our guests in around 5pm in the evening for dinner and to rest overnight. Guests then rise the following morning by 6 am and have breakfast before setting out on their way to various community organizations that provide support services during the day, to local jobs, or various other tasks. During this time, Nest uses this time to clean the shelter, conduct business, and take care of any other tasks that need to be completed on a daily basis, but are not possible while sheltering guests. With many establishments closing their doors during the storm, and travel next to impossible, Nest was determined to keep our guests safe, fed, and warm during the storm. Dedicated staff from Nest and supporting organizations, volunteers, and local leaders recognized the urgency of the situation and the vital role the shelter played in providing warmth and safety to those without shelter. Staff who could safely make it to the shelter from partnering organizations came over to help staff the shelter during the storm.

As the storm intensified, the need of Nest’s guests became apparent, and Nest volunteers went above and beyond its usual offerings. In addition to providing a warm place to sleep, the shelter expanded its services to including serving lunches, something we don’t normally support. Coffee, hot soup, and cereal were made available all day, in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner. The goal was not just survival but ensuring that everyone who sought refuge had their basic needs met. The snowstorm which although historic, was an annoyance to most, but to the unhoused populations, it was potentially deadly. The historic building with its limited bathroom and shower facilities were pushed to the brink, as the guests were left to hunker down during the storm for more than 48 hours.

The true test came on late Friday afternoon, as volunteers and staff became stranded at the shelter well beyond their normal shifts, but found that they were unable to leave due to the snow. Meanwhile, relief staff could not dig out, due to the sheer volume of snow, to come relieve their fellow staff volunteers. An urgent call out was put out on social media, late Friday afternoon for help. The community responded in full force as the post spread across local pages, and were shared by many. Within an hour’s time, local company, All Around Fencing, came and plowed the shelter parking lot. Supplies of milk, coffee creamer, and plastic spoons ran desperately low by Saturday evening, prompting a call out on social media again for donations. Center Township Trustee, Lisa Pierzakowski, Anthony Adams House, The Michigan City Salvation Army, and Keys to Hope all pitched in with vital supplies and staff, supporting Nest in any way they could.

Nest sheltered 45 individuals, including those who walked in needing to use the shelter as a warming facility, turning no one away. All were welcomed in, fed, and sheltered for the duration of the storm.

“I am so proud of my staff, volunteers, and the community for banding together to support us through this dangerous weather event. For my guests, many of whom are experiencing the worst times of their lives, the kindness and support of our community gives hope. I want to thank everyone who helped us through this record-breaking storm. I am so grateful that we support and nurtured our guests, as our shelter name states, we are a Nest, a safe, warm place to take refuge, and we truly lived up to our name this past weekend,” Harrison Holtkamp said when talking about the storm.

As the record-setting snowfall eventually subsided, streets were cleared, and partnering organizations reopened, Nest community shelter stood as a testament to the strength of unity and compassion. Nest proved that even in the face of the most challenging circumstances, a community can come together to provide warmth, safety, and support to those in need. Our story is a reminder that, when we stand shoulder to shoulder, we can weather any storm that comes our way.