Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on Santa Rosa County nonprofit organizations that improve our quality of life.  


MILTON — For roughly a decade, Ferris Hill Baptist Church has taken care of the homeless and the heatless when the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in Santa Rosa County.

And Tom Turman, a church member, has been a cold weather shelter volunteer since the beginning.

The cots and many blankets come from the Red Cross, Turman said.

“They provide 20 cots and blankets,” he said. “We have the capacity to handle more. We can easily handle 20.”

The impact is evident, particularly with the area’s vulnerable residents.

“I’m sure major illness or death could have occurred for the elderly or ill,” Turman said, adding there have been cases where a guest of the shelter was sick enough to need an ambulance.

The cutoff time to check into the shelter is 8:30 p.m. but Turman said they have accommodated individuals who work late but still need a warm place to sleep. Otherwise, the shelter will accept individuals accompanied by law enforcement.

A variety of people need the cold weather shelter, Turman said.

“There are different circumstances: the truly homeless maybe living out in the elements, those living out of cars, those moving from couch to couch between people they know, temporary people traveling through the area,” he said. “Some actually are truly just traveling through the interstate and can’t afford a hotel.”

Some have come in who are neither homeless nor indigent but are hiking or biking and become caught in the cold, Turman said.

Security has not been a problem at the shelter, according to Turman. The church has not had to call law enforcement for any incidents, he said, but may ask an officer to check on the church when several vehicles are parked there.

While the shelter is not in desperate need of supplies, Turman said volunteers rely on their partners and faith.

“A lot of things, it’s God’s timing. We do have needs and, out of the blue, somebody shows up with blankets or goodies,” he said. “We’re doing well with the supplies we have. We’re not hurting for anything.”

That, in part, is due to some area teamwork.

“We do partner with several sister churches,” Turman said. “For example, the First Baptist Church in Bagdad has shower facilities and allow us to take hot showers. The Sunday school class at Pine Terrace Baptist Church volunteers to do food on Monday night. St .Rose of Lima Catholic Church has one gentleman who volunteers overnight and a lot of people from St. Rose bring donations.

“Also, Woodbine Baptist Church has a volunteer who helps overnight.”