BRADENTON -- When Martha Childress arrived for work at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, clients were already lined up out front for services from the Open Door program at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center building.
"I saw little children on their mothers' hips," said Childress, who is the coordinator for the program that helps the county homeless and at-risk residents.
"I went around and put knitted caps on the heads of all the children and then wrapped the mothers and babies in blankets to keep them warm," she said.
Although the Turning Point social programs offered at the One Stop Center. 701 17th St.
W., did not see an increase of people because of the drop of overnight cold temperatures, Childress said she was handing out more blankets, sweaters and scarfs Wednesday morning.
"That cold goes right through your bones," she said.
Temperatures at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport dropped to 43 degrees early Wednesday morning, according the National Weather Service station in Ruskin.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Jon Jelsema said the temperatures will be about the same Thursday morning. "It looks like another fairly chilly night," Jelsema said. "The lows will be around 45 to 46 degrees."
He said these unseasonable low temperatures are somewhat related to the frigid blast our northern neighbors are suffering.
The air mass of predominately cold temperatures over the Great Lakes is being pushed south by an jet stream, Jelsema said. "It's making a big dip," he said, "causing 15 to 20 degree below normal for daytime temperatures."
Those temperatures did drive some of those living on the streets or in the woods to the Salvation Army's shelter, 1204 14th St. W., Tuesday evening.
According to Christine Smith with the Salvation Army, 115 men and two women ended up staying at the shelter. Smith said usually the organization houses about 80 people a night.
And Melissa Fernandez, coordinator for volunteers and special events for the religious-based social service provider, said they expected the same Wednesday.
"We see an increase (in the number of people seeking shelter) every time there's a severe change in the weather," Fernandez said. "And there certainly was an increase last night."
The Salvation Army serves 200 to 300 dinners every night, and provides overnight sleeping accommodations to both men and women.
Childress and Fernandez said assisting those in need is rewarding and very personal. "We never become immune to the needs or insensitive to what our neighbors are experiencing," Fernandez said.
"Last night, a women came to the door and I could have just pointed her in the right direction," she said. "But I dropped what I was doing and walked her to the women's lodge."
"It's compassion first," Fernandez said.
Adell Erozer, executive director of Turning Points, the non-profit organization that runs the One Stop Center, said there has been an increase in the number of people who are homeless or who are at risk of being homeless.
"A lot of people who come here are not homeless (according to official government definitions)," Erozer said, "but they have low-paying jobs and just can't make it."
She addressed the Manatee County Commission on Tuesday, outlining statistics from the National Center on Family Homelessness report on problem of homeless children in the United States.
The report found one in 30 children, or 2,483,539, experienced homelessness in the United States in 2013.
"We're just not able to respond to the level of need in the community," Erozer said.
In September, the most recent statistics she had available, eight families were living in their cars, and 105 men, 93 women and 125 children were homeless and had sought assistance from Turning Point.
Erozer's appearance at the county commission meeting Tuesday was to inform county residents that this is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
"More than 2,000 people are homeless in Manatee County some time during the year," she said.
To help provide for those people, a Turning Point fundraiser called Miracles on 17th Avenue West, is planned for 6 p.m. Dec. 2 at the River House Reef and Grill, 995 Riverside Drive, Palmetto.
For information on sponsorships or tickets to the event, call 941-747-1509, or visit www.tpmanatee.org.