Attendance heats up at cooling center
JANESVILLE Mary Chroninger has been seeking relief from the heat by visiting the Salvation Army at least twice a week for the past six weeks.
The local church and social services agency serves as a cooling center for the public any time the thermometer soars above 90 degrees. Visitors are welcome when the community center opens its doors at 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, except Saturday, said Maj. Ruth Fay.
“People can come in and sit in the cool building, have access to water and eat a free meal those days,” she said.
A free lunch is served weekdays and a complimentary breakfast is served Sunday, Fay said.
And for that, Chroninger, 64, of Janesville is grateful.
“I bring my Bible and stay as long as I possibly can—sometimes all day,’’ she said.
Chroninger, who suffers from respiratory problems, isn’t able to tolerate heat and humidity.
“My right lung collapsed four times and my left one once,’’ she said.
So even though the more than three-block walk from her efficiency apartment to the Salvation Army on Sutherland Avenue is difficult, she’s willing to make the trek because her small window air conditioner isn’t able to cool her living space enough for her to be comfortable.
“It’s more comfortable here; not just the temperature, but I feel like I’m closer to God,’’ Chroninger said.
Chroninger said the cooling center is important because it keeps people from dying, getting over heated and suffering from heat stroke.
“It’s more relief and makes me feel better,” she said of the Salvation Army.
It’s also fellowship and a place where Chroninger feels at home.
“If it wasn’t for this (cooling center) I wouldn’t have anywhere else to go,’’ she said.
But she does and spends most of her time in the front reception where she reads or walks around.
Chroninger isn’t alone.
Stacey Wilkins, 31, Janesville, said although she has been coming to the Salvation Army since she was a child, she has been seeking relief from the heat there four days a week.
“I come for the free dinners and a chance to talk with people,’’ she said.
Fay said because of the length of the heat wave children have been coming early to the Salvation Army to get out of the heat.
“Then they’ll sit with their parents during the free meal and stay.
So instead of coming at 11:30 a.m. and leaving, now they’re arriving at 10:30 and stay here until 2 to 2:30 p.m. They’re not here all day, but are seeking companionship, food and relief from the heat just to be cool for a couple hours,” she said.
Daily attendance at the Salvation Army has been averaging between 45 and 57 people. During the recent heat wave, attendance has jumped to an average of 70 to 80 people a day, Fay said.
“We’ve had more people,” she said, “ ’cause it’s so hot outside.’’
Sunday was warm, with highs around 90 degrees.
Today is forecast to be hot, with the daytime high temperature topping out in the mid-90s.
So the Salvation Army is expecting to be busy, again.
“Monday we’ll do lunch, provide drinks and a place to stay cool,” Fay said. “Tuesday we’ll have movies.”