A live chorus of “Happy Birthday” drowned out the “Entertainment Tonight” theme in the TV lounge at Lansing’s Trinity Church on Dunckel Road last Thursday, five days after an ice storm and widespread power failures turned the church into a Red Cross shelter.
The night before, about 70 people were scattered in five spacious rooms at the church, reading, sleeping on couches, chatting at tables, watching the flat screen TV. About 40 cots were set up in a nearby music room turned sleeping area.
The shelter’s busiest night was Christmas Eve, with about 180 guests, according to a Bob Lovell, a Red Cross volunteer.
By Thursday, the traffic was slowing.
About three families arrived that day and two left. A few people came to the shelter after being released from Sparrow Hospital, where they were treated with hypothermia and released.
Not-so-random acts of kindness, from donated blankets and food to a stealth armada of sweets, helped the time pass.
Kye Lockhart, a Lansing rapper and music producer, and two Red Cross volunteers handed out two trays of festive cupcakes to mark the 59th birthday of Chrystal Black, who beamed benignly at the scene from her wheelchair. Lockhart and Black met while staying at the shelter. “They’re from Sam’s Club. Quality Dairy didn’t have enough,” Lockhart explained.
Earlier that day, Lockhart overheard Black mention that it was her birthday and snuck away to arrange the surprise, which he paid for out of pocket.
The rooms were decorated with Christmas trees and heaped with bottled water, snacks, fruit and soda. The sleeping area was piled with dozens of brand new blankets, still wrapped in plastic, and hand knitted scarves and gloves, donated by retailers and individuals.
“People have been very appreciative, and they seem to help one another,” Marie, a Red Cross volunteer, said. “I’ve seen cases where a baby needs to be cuddled, but the mother had her hands full with other children, and somebody steps in and loves them up.”
When the rain of cupcake crumbs ceased, Sandy Buckland of Spring Arbor, who works for Consumers Energy, vacuumed the floor. Volunteers from the community, including many from the Trinity congregation and about 30 Consumers Energy employees, emptied trash, cleaned showers and bathrooms, and swept floors at the shelter.
“We’ve had a good time getting to know the guests,” Buckland said.
Birthday celebrant Black was staying at the shelter with her brothers, Doug and Ted Kablietz. The scene wasn’t always quite so serene, according to Ted Kablietz.
“It was pretty crowded for a while here,” he said. “We had a little trouble, but they dealt with it. Some people were a little riled up from being in such close quarters, so they spread them out.”
Security officer Kim Gordon agreed that it was a bit crazy for a while. “The kids were really rambunctious, climbing over the pool tables and running around,” she said. Unused to the protocol, new arrivals walked into the sleeping area and boomed out greetings to friends, waking up everyone in the room.
“It made for an interesting evening,” Ted Kableitz said.
“It’s been calm today,” Gordon said.
Lockhart and his wheelchair-bound mother, Retha, came to Trinity as a last resort, but made the best of it. “We went to every hotel from west Lansing to Okemos and they were all sold out,” Tye Lockhart said. “My mother doesn’t have the best of health. Her blood pressure was dropping and it was time to get out.”
Lockhart had a lead on a generator and hoped to get her out of the shelter that night.
“But being here has been a good experience, meeting people and helping them out,” Lockhart said. “The best meal was tonight. Chicken, rice, corn — yeah, it was good.”
Back at the check-in desk, Lovell kept an eye on new arrivals. He lavished praise on the volunteers from the Trinity congregation and Consumers Energy. “Everything we needed, they make it work,” he said.
Lovell broke off the conversation to respond to a signal from his mobile phone. Diabetic test strips were needed for a guest. He started poking the keyboard, looking for the nearest pharmacy.