CORBIN, Ky. (WKYT) - As bitterly cold weather continues to stick around, a southern Kentucky church is offering relief to those who may not have a warm place to stay.
Corbin's First Baptist Church flies a white flag outside of its family life center when the temperature there drops below 29 degrees or is expected to do so, offering a refuge from the cold, a warm meal and a warm bed.
"It's a way of people saying I can't take it any longer," Senior Pastor Austin Carty told WKYT's Phil Pendleton when the program first started earlier this month. "It is too cold. I need some kind of help. Some kind of relief."
On a White Flag Night, the church activity center doors open at 5 p.m. People can come in, get a warm meal, and take whatever warm clothes and toiletries they may need. Volunteers will then drive them to a hotel where a voucher will allow them to spend the night for free.
"We want to help however we can, and if that's just giving them one room a night, that's good enough for now," Alex Lockridge, the church's minister to children and youth, told WKYT's Garrett Wymer on Wednesday. "We'll figure out a more long-term plan as we can provide and as the resources come in. But these people have to make it through the night. These families need a place to stay."
Wednesday was the church's 13th White Flag Night, in only around three weeks of the program's operation. Church leaders said so far they've rented out 88 hotel rooms to help 55 different people.
The program has already grown in that short amount of a time. Just two people showed up for the first White Flag Night in early December, pastors said. On Tuesday, they helped 27 people - nine of them children - and handed out 14 hotel vouchers.
"We thought we'd be giving only four vouchers a night, and now we're up to 14, 15 vouchers a night," said Lynn Tipton, chairperson of the church's cold weather ministry. "So the need is great."
It is an expensive mission: about $500-$600 each night, pastors said. But they have gotten a lot of support from church members and the community - including from local businesses - to help keep it going.
Church leaders said they first planned for giving four vouchers a night for a little more than 40 nights throughout the winter (a total based on the number of sub-29-degree days in previous winters). They said they hoped to raise about $6,000 to keep the project going for the duration of the winter.
Instead, they have already raised more than triple that, church leaders said. They have also gathered donations of clothing and other cold-weather accessories, as well as toiletries, to give out to those in need. Meal donations have allowed the church to "upgrade" their original plan of serving soup every night.
"Jesus told us to take care of the poor and the hungry, those who need clothing," said Paul Sims, the church's minister of music and worship. "That's why we do this."
It means a lot to folks there, who have already come to recognize the white flag outside the church as an invitation and a symbol of hope.
"It gives me a heart of warmth. Because I know I don't have to freeze to death tonight, you know?" Brian Moore told WKYT's Garrett Wymer. "It shows that there is still people in the community that care. They open up their hearts, their doors, they feed you here."
Pastors said they can always use volunteers, as well as clothing, coats and toiletries. The church is also accepting financial donations online here.