Volunteers Saving Lives During Harsh Code Blue Stretch in Cumberland County

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As below freezing temperatures become a norm across South Jersey, so does the activation of Code Blue alerts.

Numerous warming centers across our area have already been open for nearly two dozen nights this season, and it’s only the beginning of January.

But how is Cumberland County’s Code Blue Coalition holding up and keeping those centers open night after night?

Once the temperature hits below 32 degrees with precipitation, or below 25 degrees without, Cumberland County’s Office of Emergency Management activates Code Blue.

During our four years of operation we’ve had long stretches, but we’ve never had this type of long stretch.

And just last week the need for those shelters became clear once again.

“It really is a matter of life and death," said Rob Weinstein, president of the M25 Initiative and chair for the Cumberland County Code Blue Coalition. "And we saw that last Thursday [January 4th], when somebody in our county died in our backyard because of the frigid temperatures wearing nothing but overalls.” 

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Forty-two volunteers are needed to work shifts throughout the 12 hours of Code Blue each night at the Vineland, Bridgeton and Millville warming centers.

“Basically, we bring the people in, they get something to eat, they go and lay down on a cot, and they sleep until six in the morning when they have to leave,” said Weinstein.

Tuesday night will mark two weeks that Code Blue has been activated in Cumberland County. That's 14 consecutive days that people have been volunteering their time overnight to make sure that the homeless population has a warm place to stay during the freezing temperatures.

“During our four years of operation we’ve had long stretches, but we’ve never had this type of long stretch,” said Weinstein.

And those volunteers are beginning to feel the strain.

“It’s always seeming to fall upon a certain set of volunteers and if we don’t have more help then I’m concerned about our ability to keep these warming centers open,” said Weinstein.

He says it costs about $500 each night a center is open and after 24 nights of Code Blue being open already this season, volunteers aren’t their only concern.

“Really what I need [from] people are five minutes of their time, five hours of a shift throughout this whole Code Blue season and $5. If they can do that then they can save a life,” said Weinstein.

Anyone interested in volunteering or donating to help these centers stay open should visit codeblueccnj.org.

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