Love Thy Neighbor: Christmas Stories from Birmingham’s Warming Station

Birmingham Woodfin
Mayor Randall Woodfin greets a visitor at the BJCC warming station on Christmas Day, 2017. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

The first time I visited the Birmingham Warming Station was on Christmas Day in 2017 at the BJCC. Writing a story for Bham Now, I got to visit that evening Don Lupo, Birmingham’s director of Citizen Assistance, countless volunteers and yes, Mayor Randall Woodfin.

What is the Birmingham Warming Station?

Over the years, I have written nearly a dozen stories about the Birmingham Warming Station. For folks unfamiliar with it, several times a year the city opens its doors, usually at Boutwell Auditorium or the BJCC to people who need a warm place to stay on a sub-freezing night. 

Through a program called Heart to Table, Birmingham’s finest restaurants donate meals. One cold winter more than 7100 meals were served. The city collects toiletries, blankets, coats and clothes to give out. One year, during the holidays, the numbers at the warming station topped 400 around New Year’s Day.  

Silvertron staff and community volunteers prepare to serve visitors at the warming station in 2017. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

This year the warming station is a little bit different. A raging pandemic means no volunteers (staff from the city and first responders are stepping up), but it doesn’t mean less giving and support from Birmingham residents and surrounding communities.

120 Stories

On social media, I follow the city’s Don Lupo. After nearly every post, he signs off – “Love thy neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe any that are naked.”  

He lives by those words.

This holiday, I want to share with our readers at Bham Now his post from Christmas Eve. His words, which were probably typed on his cell phone (no caps and periods) in between chores. 

Christmas Eve 2020

Boutwell Auditorium WARMING STATION

Santa came

we’ve had music and movies — we’ve had so much food we look like Santa

we’ve had a number of people discharged from hospitals on a sub freezing night with nowhere to go

we have a mom and a two year old.

we have a mom and dad in their twenties with a three week old — the mom came with no shoes and no coat

we have a young man that is twenty — sobbing because he’s been put out of his family’s home for coming out

there are some 120 stories in Boutwell right now

but we have plenty of everything — nobody will want tonight  — YOU have seen to it that we don’t need anything tonight

Somebody will knock on the door and we will not tell them we have no room.

Love thy neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe any that are naked.

Birmingham’s Generosity

The city and Lupo’s work is contagious. On Christmas Day, a friend of mine, Val Walton Cornner posted a story about her cousin Miranda “Tylane” Walton producing 40+ crocheted hats to give away at the Warming Station on Christmas. 

I just love this photo.

Miranda Tylane Waltons Christmas gift Love Thy Neighbor: Christmas Stories from Birmingham’s Warming Station
Photo via Miranda-Tylane Walton via Val Walton Cornner Facebook page. Posted with permission.

Along with Miranda’s gift – days before the Warming Station opened, the city collected items for the unsheltered.

Here was Lupo’s post detailing the community’s response.

Wednesday December 23, 2020

in addition to “sometimes” — I say “I wish” a lot 

well. tonight I wish you could have seen what I saw today

car after car — loaded — supporting the Boutwell Warming Station

tomorrow is Christmas Eve — the greatest story ever told becomes live again — COVID — COVID will prevent churches from filling to capacity — but COVID will not stop the music, the candles, the beautiful robes, COVID will not stop the celebration of the baby known as Jesus

and COVID will not stop the Boutwell WARMING STATION from opening — we will do as we are taught

love thy neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe any that are naked

How You Can Help

FXT37806 Love Thy Neighbor: Christmas Stories from Birmingham’s Warming Station
JHM partners with Meals on Wheels to deliver and serve food to those in need during Christmas and Thanksgiving.Photo via Jimmie Hale Mission

Thankfully, the weather is warming up over the New Year’s Day holiday, but there will be additional cold snaps. in January. Visit the city of Birmingham’s website (the newsroom) regularly to get the latest about the Warming Station. In the meantime, support our local nonprofits that take care of our neighbors in need including the  – Firehouse Shelter, The Jimmie Hale Mission and Pathways. Call United Way’s 2-1-1 for a complete list of shelters.

Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

Articles: 2468