Despite having a shortage of shelter signs, four-dozen stranded motorists found an American Red Cross shelter at Payson Elementary School Thursday night and escaped icy winter conditions.
Four local volunteers set up cots, brewed pots of coffee, handed out comfort kits and did their best to entertain little ones all while bitterly cold temperatures outside derailed holiday travel plans.
Shelter organizers worry, however, that dozens more would have arrived if they could have found the place.
Volunteer Kathleen Kelly said she needed a police escort to find the shelter, at 304 S. Meadows St. For visitors, it is nearly impossible to find a shelter with no signs leading the way, she said.
So far, the Payson High School Family and Consumer Science class has donated money to buy one sign — the local chapter’s first and only official form of shelter identification.
Kelly blames a budget crunch and organizational bureaucracies at the Red Cross for the lack of signage.
“We have got to put more signs out there,” she said. “A lot more people might have been there if they had known.”
When Kelly went to Walmart to gather supplies, shoppers asked her where they could go. From there, those shoppers and employees passed the shelter’s address off to out-of-towners looking for somewhere to go, as well as the police.
At least seven inches of snow was dropped on Payson Thursday, forcing officers to close Highways 87 and 260 outside of Payson.
Many families heading to Show Low or Pine-Strawberry weren’t prepared for winter travel and either huddled down in their cars for the night, rented a hotel room, turned around and went home or stayed at the shelter.
Luckily, Walmart donated food and water for the shelter.
“They really come through so much for this town,” Kelly said of Walmart.
By 9:30 p.m. Thursday, shelter volunteers Kelly, Roxie Bowers, Sharon Myers and John and Pat Suerko had the shelter open.
“Everyone was really grateful that we had it,” Kelly said.
If you would like to help the local Red Cross chapter get more shelter signs, visit Ironhorse Signs, 201 E. Cedar Lane, and donate. Each sign is reflective and costs around $160.
Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter volunteers remain on stand-by in the event temperatures remain below freezing in the higher elevations.