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After severe windstorms left close to three-fourths of the area’s residents without power Friday night, Liberty University, which was unaffected by the storms, took immediate action by opening up its facilities to the public and ministering to the basic needs of the community.
Sodexo, the school’s dining services provider, quickly opened up Reber-Thomas Dining Hall to the public for dinner on Saturday, offering meals at $3 for adults (kids and emergency services workers eat free). That service will continue through the duration of the crisis, for breakfast, lunch and dinner (see hours here). More than 4,000 have been served since Saturday afternoon, according to Lori Madden, district manager for Sodexo.
“I think this has been a beautiful demonstration of ministry for this campus and we are just really happy to be a part of it,” Madden said.
Sodexo had planned to close the dining hall on Saturday afternoon for one week, with no students to serve on campus and no camps scheduled. Madden said that decision was quickly reversed when she saw the need and her already slim summer crew agreed to stay on.
Madden, like much of her staff, lost power at her own home.
“I’m so proud of the people who work for me. I’ve had people make personal sacrifice, leave their families, their pets, to come here because that is what they are about and I’m so proud of that.”
Madden said she met some families who had stocked up with groceries Friday night and had already spent their food budget.
“They were really devastated and they didn’t know where to go or what they were going to do to take care of their families,” she said.
Another family had traveled from Illinois with their two daughters who will be freshmen at Liberty this fall. When their hotel lost power, they were relieved to be able to come to the dining hall to eat, cool down and make other housing arrangements.
Knowing that many children would come to the dining hall, Madden even went to the store to buy toys and games and set up a kids’ zone. Children’s movies are being shown on a big screen TV.
Lyn Mathews, a Boonsboro resident, brought her two boys and met with another family to eat at the dining hall on Monday.
“I knew how big it was and that we would have the space for the boys to hang out,” she said. “The food is a nice addition — of course we don’t have anything in our fridge, it’s all gone. I didn’t expect it to be a lot — this is way more options than I expected. This is a gift. I think this is a great witness what Liberty has done.”
The dining hall spelled even more relief for the hundreds of people who were already visiting nearby Thomas Road Baptist Church, which was designated as a cooling station and shelter. Gleaning for the World unloaded boxes of food and drink and the Liberty University Police Department have been manning the site. On Monday, a medic station was set up in Liberty Christian Academy’s band room.
By Sunday, Liberty had also opened its laundry facilities on campus to the public (they are open from 6 a.m. to midnight) and by Monday afternoon, up to 1,500 beds in dorm rooms were being made available to first responders and families in need. About 100 beds are being used by out-of-area electrical workers unable to find hotel rooms when they arrived in town to respond to the outage.
“We needed to give those folks a place to stay so they can get our power back on — that’s the most immediate need,” said Lee Beaumont, director of auxiliary services at Liberty.
Approximately 350 individuals spent the night at TRBC and at Liberty’s indoor track, with 500 to 1,000 expected tonight.
Beaumont said the school was in the middle of a summer maintenance plan for the dorms that kicked into high gear after the power outage, with crews working around the clock to make more rooms available.
“It’s taken a heroic effort to get the campus ready,” Beaumont said. “We’ve had employees sleeping in offices and in their cars to keep our facilities open to families in need, to keep people fed and housed. There’s a whole lot of Liberty staff making it happen.”
Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. said he was proud of the response of Liberty’s staff and administration.
“Many of them have toiled all weekend long without power at home to make the dorms, laundry and dining facilities at Liberty available to the public this week. I never cease to be amazed at their dedication and willingness to serve others.”
In addition to the dining hall, Liberty has opened the LaHaye Student Union for restrooms, showers and computer use and the third floor of the football stadium tower, the indoor track and the LaHaye Ice Center for cooling stations.
When Liberty learned that local adult home Westminster Canterbury needed commercial grade washing machines and dryers, it offered the LaHaye Ice Center’s laundry facilities to them.
The Ice Center is open free to the public at the following times:
Monday: Public skating - 10 a.m.-noon and 2-5 p.m. (facility open 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m.)
Tuesday: Public skating - 10 a.m.-noon and 2-5 p.m. (facility open 8 a.m.-7 p.m.)
Wednesday: Public skating - 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (facility open 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.)
Liberty Police Chief Richard Hinkley said Liberty is continuing to find more ways to assist people in the community as temperatures continue to stay in the high 90s.
“It’s been a great team effort at Liberty University and TRBC to take care of many people in need. Everything is running smoothly. We will be increasing capacity as the need changes and we’re so privileged to help out the community,” he said.