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Community rallies behind shelter

A fire that broke out at the HER Shelter in late May has rallied the Western Branch community.

“Western Branch is pretty tight knit community and often comes together for things like this,” said Lt. Mike Mayo of the Chesapeake Police Department Fourth Precinct.

The HER (Help and Emergency Response) Shelter is a non-profit that serves as a resource to victims of domestic violence and homelessness in the Hampton Roads area.

On May 20, a grease fire broke out in the shelter’s kitchen on the first floor. There was minor smoke damage, but sprinklers caused significant water damage.

“We had to get the floor replaced,” said Wynn Horton, community relations coordinator for the shelter. “But, once it was installed, we found leakage and had to get the floors replaced again.”

During this time, shelter residents were placed in hotels and eventually apartments, as the restoration process took longer than expected. The Chesapeake Fire Department helped the residents move out of the center and into their temporary homes.

“We planned to be open by the third week in June. But now we are hoping for next Monday,” said Beth Cross, the HER executive director.

A resident of Holly Cove, located in Chesapeake, brought news of the fire and the shelter’s needs to the Chesapeake Fourth Precinct. From there, Officer Eric Hayes got involved and opened up the station as a donation site for the HER Shelter.

The collection was started in late June and will conclude on July 15. To date, several boxes of items have been collected.

“This is not an unusual thing for us to get involved in,” Mayo said.

The police station is often involved in community events and donation drives. In the past, they have participated in Christmas drives and food drives to help families in need.

In an effort to attract more community involvement, Hayes contacted local churches and organizations to start their own collection drives. There have also been a few Facebook groups rooted in the Western Branch area that have shared the center’s list of requested items.

The requested items include cleaning supplies, canned foods, spices and condiments, among many others.

Once the collection end date has arrived, participating churches and organizations will compile their collections with the precinct, which will then be given to shelter.

“We didn’t set any of this up, but it is awesome,” Cross said. “This is not something we saw coming and we are thankful for the support.”

The Holly Cove community hosts an annual “Unity in the Community” event every summer. This year’s event happens to fall on the same day as the precinct’s last day of collection, so the event will host its own donation drive to provide additional support to the HER Shelter.

“This has been a tremendous response from the community,” Hayes said. “We try to be as involved as we can, but we give all credit to the community for what they’ve done.”