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Arian Schuessler / ARIAN SCHUESSLER, The Globe Gazette 

Officials with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation investigate after a body was found near 290th Street and Shadow Avenue, about 10 miles south of Charles City on Dec. 1, 2017.

CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

A man shovels the sidewalk at the Central Park Transit Station on Monday in Mason City.

Mason City's homeless, food-service dependent especially vulnerable during cold

MASON CITY | With a multi-day stretch of sub-zero temperatures, and the risk of wind chill values as low as minus-32 on Wednesday, homeless shelters and food pantries in Mason City are working to accommodate some of the city's most vulnerable citizens.

The Northern Lights Alliance for the Homeless, which works to meet the needs of the homeless population in the community and operates four shelters in Mason City, is currently acting as a "warming center" for anyone who might be caught out in the cold with no place to go over these next several days. 

Warming shelters

Jeannie Kingery, the executive director for Northern Lights, says that the group hasn't had anyone come in yet to make use of the warming center but that it might just be a matter of time.

"(We) anticipate today and tomorrow we have a few come in," she said.

John Smid, who works at the Northern Lights men's shelter, said that the Mason City Police Department has been informed of the shelter's adapted policy.

"We put out word to the police departments and stuff like that that we’ll be using this for a warming center while this cold is going on," he said.

Smid said that typically individuals have to pass some criteria before they can actually stay at the shelter but that's being waved while temperatures stay in the extremes.

"They can just come in and stay for a few days until the cold snap," he said.

Currently the Northern Lights men's shelter, which is nestled on the 300 block of North Monroe Avenue, is housing eight individuals and has beds for three more. If those fill, people coming in to get out of the cold can sleep on the shelter's couches.

While the Mason City Police Department isn't specifically out on patrol looking for individuals who might have no place to go to escape the extreme cold, Police Chief Jeff Brinkley said that the department is being more proactive and responding differently.

"We would bring a lot more resources to the table in a far faster manner than we might under what I call more normal winter temperatures," Brinkley said.

As a part of that, Brinkley said that officers are informing individuals they meet on patrol of their options.

"We will come across homeless people when people report somebody maybe panhandling or somebody who maybe camped out in the front door or vestibule of a business," Brinkley said. "So when we get those calls and we get a chance to talk to people and really identify what their circumstances are, then our officers will make the referral to go to Northern Lights."

If it became clear that an overabundance of individuals needed to take advantage of such options, Cerro Gordo County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Steve O'Neil said that him and his group could provide assistance.

"(We) could open a small mass care shelter if those places get overwhelmed but as of right now, again, I have not heard that any of them are being overwhelmed," he said.

Successful Red Kettle Campaign in county

As the Salvation Army’s Service Extension Unit representative in Mitchell County, I wish to thank the hundreds of friends and supporters who have given donations and time to The Salvation Army.

O'Neil said he knows of at least two groups, Northern Lights and Francis Lauer, providing warming center options during the cold spell.

One group who isn't currently opening as warming shelter but has in the past is the Salvation Army of Mason City.

Tracy Hedegard-Stump, who works at the Salvation Army, said that if they get asked to chip in they "certainly would" but that "we haven't been asked to do that."

In fact, Hedegard-Stump said that the current weather and the building's distance from downtown is slowing those seeking aid.

"We haven't had as many people stopping in as normal because of the cold," she said.

Pantries close

The same can be said for Mason City's Community Kitchen. 

Though Community Kitchen had 95 people come through a week ago on Jan. 23, when temps were down in the single digits, the weather's now keeping some patrons away.

Attendance during the lunch hour on Tuesday was sparser, according to Community Kitchen Assistant Director Sandy Funk. And that's in part because much of the kitchen's clientele has access and transportation issues, even in relatively good weather. 

Typically, Community Kitchen sees an uptick this time of month.

"The trend here is that as we get closer to the end of the month our numbers increase because people are out of food stamps, they’re out of money and so that’s another thing to consider," Funk said. "It would increase our numbers because of the end of the month status."

According to Funk, about 20 percent of the people Community Kitchen serves are homeless and while they're not a shelter, they're comfortable letting people stay inside a little while past lunch and dining hours to keep warm. 

"Normally, we close down about 1 o’clock here," Funk said. "And there’s usually nobody here but me. But (a homeless couple) came in (Monday) and said, 'Would you mind if we sat out here? We have a bunch of phone calls to make.' They’re trying to find housing, so they were here all afternoon."

However, no one will be around Wednesday. Community Kitchen is closing on account of the weather. The same is true of Meals on Wheels in Mason City. 

Funk said that they have a policy with Meals on Wheels that they don't deliver when Mason City schools are canceled. The reason: many of the drivers for the program are retired, elderly people who are vulnerable to the cold themselves.

"If schools close, the sense is that it’s not safe," Funk said. "Well now the kicker is: They didn’t get a meal today. And the schools are closed Tuesday and Wednesday."

Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank also closed for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ozzie Ohl, who volunteers with the food bank, said that closing was a tough call that was discussed extensively among those in charge but that they just couldn't risk it.

"The danger to clients and volunteers far outweighs opening today or Wednesday," Ohl said. "We simply can not put our volunteers at risk in such dangerous weather conditions. Many of our clients do not have clothing or adequate transportation to be out in this weather either. It would be a huge mistake on our part to open and put clients and volunteers in such grave risk."

The coldest days in Mason City since 1979

Remember when...? The coldest days in Mason City since 1979

'The show must go on:' Clear Lake's Winter Dance Party continues despite dangerous cold

CLEAR LAKE | This week's arctic below-zero temperatures have canceled activities and events throughout North Iowa, but the Winter Dance Party is surely not one of them.

And that’s in large part because of the Surf Ballroom & Museum staff and volunteers who’ve spent days — if not months — preparing for the historic event.

“We’re planning on going on even though the weather is cold and there may be some snow in the forecast,” said Laurie Lietz, Surf Ballroom & Museum executive director. “The show must go on.”

• Too cool for school? Arctic minus-30 temps, wind chill may lead to more North Iowa closures

The Clear Lake event — in its 40th year — was started in 1979 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson’s last performance at the Surf Ballroom.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the infamous Winter Dance Party tour and the Feb. 3, 1959, plane crash that killed the three rock ‘n’ roll legends — and pilot Roger Peterson — near Clear Lake.

A star-studded, jam-packed lineup was slated for this year’s Winter Dance Party, which runs from Wednesday through Saturday, to commemorate the anniversary.

“We have double the number of artists on the bill,” Lietz said. “We have as many on stage as we could possibly squeeze on the bill this year.”

She said Surf Ballroom staff have spent the past 18 months booking the event’s entertainment lineup and the past five months securing volunteers.

The Winter Dance Party requires between 175 and 200 volunteers who provide “general hospitality” as well as box office, gift shop and coat check services to the event’s hundreds of patrons who travel from around the world, Lietz said.

“There’s a lot more involved in this one than our regular shows,” she said, adding a single concert at the Surf calls for between 50 and 70 staff and volunteers.

On Tuesday, John Young, a four-year patron of the Winter Dance Party, gifted the Surf a refurbished guitar highlighting the staff and volunteers who make the event possible year after year.

“The Surf is about the music and about the stars, but this is about the volunteers and the people who really make the world go ‘round here within the building,” said Jeff Nicholas, president of the North Iowa Cultural Center & Museum Board of Directors, the nonprofit that runs the Surf Ballroom.

Young, a painter from Sheffield, England, had been working with Lietz and Nicholas the past year to obtain photographs of the Surf’s staff and volunteers to decorate the bass guitar.

“It’s for everyone here,” he said.

Nicholas accepted the guitar on behalf of the Surf.

“This is the embodiment of what this place, and what this event, is,” he said. “When you have people like this from across the world feel so strongly about this thing that we call the Surf that they’ll do something this nice.”

Young said he secured the photos onto the body and neck of the guitar with paper mache. The guitar was accented with a stars-and-stripes detail as well as a piece positioned beneath the bridge that says, “The music lives on.”

“People say the music died. It didn’t die, did it?” he said. “The music lives on through these guys here. You guys do all the work.”

Nicholas said the Surf is honored, privileged and happy to accept the guitar. It will be displayed somewhere in the building.

The Winter Dance Party will kick off Wednesday evening with the family sock hop featuring The Whitesidewalls.

Thursday night’s lineup features Jay and The Americans, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Robin Luke and The Good Clean Fun Band.

Friday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Royalty Show will feature the families of musical pioneers celebrating their rock ‘n’ roll heritage.

Edan Everly with Albert Lee; Frank Avalon; Wendy and Carnie Wilson; The Killer Vees; Linda Gail Lewis with Danny B. Harvey and Annie Marie Lewis; Austin Allsup; Bobby Cochran; and Craig Westover with James Popenhagen and Mario Ramirez are scheduled to appear.

Saturday’s entertainment lineup will feature Chubby Checker and The Wildcats, Albert Lee and Friends, Shirley Alston Reeves, The Chiffons, Brian Hyland, Chris Montez, Johnny Tillotson and The Holy Rocka Rollaz.

Lietz said most acts on this year’s Winter Dance Party bill have made travel arrangements in accordance with the weather and are able to play.

However, the Winter School Dance parties at Garner-Hayfield-Ventura and Clear Lake schools on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, may be canceled due to school closures related to the weather. The event at G-H-V has been canceled because school is closed Wednesday.

Winter Dance Party tickets, with the exception of the family sock hop, are sold out, Lietz said, noting some ticket exchanges are taking place because of the weather.

For more information about the Winter Dance Party, visit or call 641-357-6151.

• Photos: Winter Dance Party 2018

Photos: Winter Dance Party 2018

Alliant Energy offers tips for customers during extreme cold

MASON CITY | With an extreme cold spell swirling through town, Mason City residents will be likelier than ever to turn their thermostats to the right just a little bit more.

But Mike Wagner, a spokesperson for Alliant Energy, says that folks should take care not to wear down their furnaces this time of year. "If you’re furnace is going to be running nonstop, if there’s a problem with your furnace, it could be exacerbated."

To prevent such a problem, Wagner recommends that customers make sure to get their furnace or air conditioner serviced before heating or cooling season starts so there are "no surprises."

"What we want our customers to understand is to set the thermostat at a temperature their comfortable with," Wagned said. "And really a part of that comfortableness is for them to get control of their energy use."

And if customers are at alarmed by the bottom line on their bills for energy use, they have options.

Budget billing allows customers to pay a fixed bill, based on prior average energy costs, every month.

Additionally, customers can cut back by letting a little bit of sunshine in during daytime hours or by dialing down the thermostat at night. 

According to Alliant's website, "You can save as much as 10 percent a year on heating by turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit from its normal setting for eight hours a day."