CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Aldersgate United Methodist Church decided to build a multipurpose community center, officials there knew the residents of Sissonville needed it.
"For the Sissonville area, there's long been a need there," said Pat Taylor, who, along with wife Dena, led the church's fundraising efforts for the center. "We feel like we're filling that need with this building."
But what the church's parishioners didn't know was how soon and how much the center was needed.
Construction on the first two phases of the center's construction wrapped up in May. Late the next month, the center -- complete with its 100-kilowatt generator -- opened first as a cooling station, then as a temporary shelter for a community hard-hit by the June 29 derecho.
"Volunteers in the church and the community came in and we just made it happen," Taylor said.
During the nine days that it served as 24-hour emergency shelter, volunteers served more than 2,700 hot meals to the community, he said.
People charged cellphones and wheel chairs and used the center, which sits adjacent to the church, for hot showers and the electric for breathing treatments, Taylor said. The center also welcomed crated animals, much to the relief of their owners.
"Some folks just will not leave home without their pets, regardless of the temperatures or situation," Taylor said. Thirty-seven people stayed overnight, he said.
Emergency officials praised the organization at the shelter.
"First of all, they prepared it to be a shelter," said C.W. Sigmon, Kanawha County deputy emergency manager and fire coordinator. "They put a generator in. They knew someday it might be [a shelter] and they seemed to be ready for it."
Sigmon said the community center, with the support of the church, kept people there engaged and fed them good meals.
"People were comfortable, they had a place for pets," Sigmon said. "They did a great job."