NELDON: Freezing temperatures show warm hearts throughout Michiana

As temperatures dipped to record lows this week, many were presented with challenges that not only altered their regular schedule, but severely inconvenienced them. Business owners lost money, commuters and travelers got stuck, and many businesses had to rethink how they operate.

For all the inconvenience, however, the overwhelming message through the freezing cold could be described in one word: warmth.

While many of us may have been inclined to grumble over missed mail delivery, inability to get to the grocery store and lost wages at work, the resounding response was instead to open doors and hearts to people in need.

As soon as news broke that temperatures would dip to levels so low that just minutes outside would cause frostbite, businesses and organizations throughout the region stepped up to provide warm, safe places to keep those who spend a lot of time on the streets, or who are for whatever reason without heat or power.

When asked why they decided to open their doors, vice president of Michiana Heating and Air Conditioning Jon Gillespie’s answer was simply, “why not?”

In addition to Michiana Heating and Air Conditioning’s generous 24-hour warming center, the city of Dowagiac offered up the train station, Niles’ Ultra Camp opened its doors, the YMCA invited folks to its lobby and many, many other organizations and citizens volunteered shelter, and donated food and warm clothing.

When the U.S. Post Office decided not to deliver mail Wednesday — a nearly unprecedented decision — people did not grumble and complain. They celebrated the fact that their carriers would not have to be out in the elements.

For the most part, Michiganders used their experience to prepare them for the weather, and stocked up on necessities before the worst hit, so when grocery stores and restaurants opted to close to keep their employees’ safe, we celebrated them, too.

As we have learned through past natural disasters like the flood that swept southwest Michigan just less than a year ago, this generosity is common in our southwest Michigan communities. Once again I learned that regardless of how difficult the conditions, or what cost results, an overwhelming majority of our community members are here for their neighbors.

It may have been 14 degrees below 0, but this week, my heart was warm.

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