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Williamsport's First United Methodist Church - a grey brick church located near Rite Aid and Lycoming College's campus at the intersection of Market and Packer streets. Source: First Church, Williamsport

Residents of Williamsport are likely familiar with the First Evangelical Center of the First United Methodist Church - the grey brick church with a fountain on the intersection of Market and Packer Streets - but not everyone knows that the blue lights that shine outside of the church at night are not just for decoration. The blue lights behind the fountain signal that the church is a Code Blue emergency warming site, an essential resource to protect homeless people in our cold northern climate. The church is stepping up to provide this important service for the second full year in a row.

The warming center opens at 9 p.m. each night, and for the safety of the guests the doors are locked at 10 p.m. until morning. Cots, blankets, and pillows are provided. The Code Blue center's hours end each morning at 7:30 a.m., and the church will continue the nightly 9 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. schedule until March 13, 2020.

In addition to a warm and safe place to sleep, the Code Blue center at First Church will provide nighttime and morning meals and fellowship to those seeking refuge. The center's staff aims to provide a place where anyone can find warmth, companionship, food, and safety without feeling guilt or shame about asking for help.

"We're called by our faith to help others and share the love and hope of Jesus Christ. I say this a lot: the line between someone who needs help and those who are working as hosts is pretty thin," says John Best, one of the warming center's coordinators. "I would encourage everyone who needs it to seek help with us. We're non-judgmental here."

If you would like to donate a meal to the Code Blue shelter, please check the church's online sign-up sheet. Currently the sign-up sheet only covers January, but February and March sign-ups will be available soon. Meals should be easy-to-serve items such as barbecue, macaroni and cheese, soups, casseroles, baked goods like bread rolls and brownie slices, and pizzas.

There are currently 43 host volunteers, with two men and two women assisting guests each night. Anyone who is interested in becoming an overnight host for the warming center may call John and Sue Best at 570-326-1943. If John and Sue are unavailable to pick up the phone, please leave a message expressing your interest.

The Code Blue service is being offered by First Church in cooperation with Lycoming County United Way, coordinated by John and Sue Best, and made possible by many generous volunteers. The center typically serves about 9 people per night, but is ready to host more as word gets out and the weather becomes more brutal.