Father who lost son is giving CO detectors to food shelves

William Sherk carries with him a pocket knife engraved with the name Keith. He’s using the sharpened blade to cut open boxes of carbon monoxide detectors. 

But the knife opens more than the possibility of lives saved, it also opens the memory of a life lost.

"I lost my son to carbon monoxide poisoning," said Sherk.  

Keith Sherk was just 21 years old when carbon monoxide filled a makeshift room he had built near a furnace. The accident was 18 years ago, but it still drives his father.

"And I really just don't want another family to go ahead and suffer, and think it, and re-live it," said Sherk.

He’s always known he was in a unique position to help. As the owner of Neighborhood Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning in the north metro, Sherk knows the importance of safe heating, and the how many families can’t afford a CO detector.  

CO detectors are required by Minnesota state law. One must be installed at least ten feet from any sleeping space in a house or apartment. Despite the law and efforts at CO awareness, Minnesota Department of Health records show 54 people have died from CO poising since 2015.

Two years ago Sherk managed to collect hundreds of CO detectors and distributed them to Family Pathways in North Branch to give to needy families who came to their food shelves.  He thought it would help save lives.  But then tragedy struck again in Moorhead just before Christmas when an immigrant family of seven died from CO poisoning in their apartment.

"And it was like, man, I got to get it. I have to do it again," said Sherk.  

The owners of Neighborhood Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning are making donations of carbon monoxide detectors to others through the Family Pathways program.

This time, he’s gathered 2,600 CO detectors and he’s dropped off the first 700 of them again to Family Pathways.

"What a wonderful gift," said Kathy Wills, Family Pathways’ director of food access.  

Family Pathways intends to distribute them throughout their nine food shelves in Minnesota and Wisconsin along with their mobile food truck.  

"They might be struggling to make ends meet. So to have to buy a carbon monoxide detector might not be high on their list.  So this is a wonderful way they can get a life-saving measure," said Wills.

But Sherk is still looking for more organizations and nonprofits that can help him distribute his CO detectors to families or individuals who may need them.  He’s asking for people to email him their suggestions at CO@4neighborhood.com.

"If we can just spare one family, we've done our job," said Sherk.