WINCHESTER — Local businessman J.J. Smith recently donated $50,000 to the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS) to help the nonprofit program raise money for a permanent shelter.
Smith, the president and CEO of Valley Proteins, told WATTS he would give them $50,000 for every $100,000 the group raises toward establishing a permanent shelter, up to $200,000. WATTS received its first $50,000 check from Smith on Jan. 31.
“It’s an extraordinary blessing for WATTS to realize what he is committing to us,” said Laurel Coleman, president of the WATTS board of directors. “We are just so eternally grateful for his generosity.”
Started in 2009, WATTS provides up to 35 homeless adults with overnight shelter for a 20-week period from November to March. WATTS participants are served a hot dinner, breakfast and the option of a bagged lunch. Area churches and other groups take turns hosting the program for one week at a time. The current session ends March 28.
Coleman said that Smith reached out to her after longtime WATTS leader Marion Schottelkorb died in July. WATTS is trying to fulfill Schottelkorb’s vision of establishing a permanent shelter that can hold more people.
“I know the churches were going together and taking their turns in providing shelter in the winter,” Smith said. “And I think we as a community need a more permanent option. So I figured I could and I wanted to help with the fundraising.”
Coleman said WATTS was able to raise $100,000 through donations and several fundraising events.
WATTS Interim Executive Director Robyn Miller said the cost of a permanent shelter has not yet been determined since WATTS still needs to determine if it will need to purchase land and construct a new building or renovate an existing building.
“There are too many variables at this point,” she said.
Coleman said that the WATTS board of directors is currently exploring all options for the new shelter and wants to ensure it has the finances to complete the project.
“Our thought is we want to make sure once we start down the path, we can go forward,” Coleman said. “We want to be able to utilize the funds properly and know that we have a significant amount to where there isn’t going to be a roadblock for us. Once we start, we want to see it through completion.”