A Place of Shelter … Holy Name of Mary!

I’ve had some reflections about our Winter Shelter and I thought … I’ll just keep using my Chicago Blog to share … so here I go.

As many of you know, I just got back to work … this is the start of my 4th week back as Volunteer Coordinator. I’ll go more into that later …

What I really want to share with you is about the Winter Shelter we’re hosting here in our BRAND NEW HALL FOR ALL that really is FOR ALL! Last Wednesday was the first day of our parish hosting the East San Gabriel Valley Homeless Coalition’s Winter Shelter. What does this mean? Well, believe me, I had NO IDEA what this meant and it has truly just blown me away!

I’ll start with some “shout outs” to all of my dear friends who have been working for months and months to make sure this runs smoothly and that all the volunteers are adequately trained for their specific job and that everyone is warm and welcoming to our (homeless) guests. First, David & Brenda have pretty much put their whole lives into this amazing endeavor and it shows. There is nothing that happens in the Winter Shelter that they have not touched with their beautiful hands and hearts. They are truly a gift and have held us up to the bar that they’ve set for our turn at hosting the Winter Shelter. This runs the way it does because of their expertise and loving guidance to all of us. WOW! Corinnie & Linda have made “Hope’s Closet” a beautiful “store” where the guests can shop, with their own “personal shopper” no less, for anything they might need. Shoes, jackets, clothes, undies, socks, and all the basic necessities (many of which were lovingly donated by YOU guys!) and then even some fun things for them … books, games, jewelry, etc. It makes our guests just feel so “wanted.” They do not pay one penny for anything we give them … it’s all donated and given by you freely and with so much love. Deacon Marv is out there every night making sure that the portable showers are getting hot water and are cleaned after every shower so that the next person receives a clean shower stall for their use. How many times does that happen for them? Not very often unfortunately. Deacon Al and Rita and Rosemary and Hayden make sure that the guests receive a clean towel and any toiletries that they would like to use during their showers. Toiletries you say? Yes, travel size bath gels, shampoos, conditioners, face scrubs, toothbrushes, anything and everything that you would want in your shower, they get to take with them and use during their shower. A gift for them indeed. They also have a team of “towel washers” that pick up 100 or so wet, used towels every night and they head out to our local laundromat to wash and dry and fold and bring back clean and fresh the next morning for the next night’s guests. After their shower, the guests can go visit the “Salon” … led by our own Ms. Juliette who has a team of stylists in there every evening cutting hair, styling it, braiding, and whatever else their “clients” might want. You should see their faces after they come out of the salon … they look and feel like a million bucks every time!  Charlie has been the “quiet strength” of the Team … there working quietly getting all the ministries on board and ready to go, with what I refer to as his “Silent Strength.”  His smile and good humor keep the guests in stitches as he waves his flag to keep their food coming … and fast!!  And, Cesar … who besides Cesar and Ray can so lovingly keep our Hall and Church and the entire grounds spotless … well pretty much no one.  They both love our parish so much, that doing what the rest of us would refer to as “the dirty work,” for them is a labor of love.  You will not find trash anywhere except where it’s supposed to be because of both of these fine men.

Are these all the “amenities” our guests receive? No, let me keep going … if they’re not feeling well, one of our Medical Professionals, Stephi and Sharon, Amante & Christina, and many other doctors and nurses from our own pews, offer their services and expertise in their medical field. They give them a check up, make sure they have any medicines they might need, and again, listen to their needs and make them feel like someone cares. All for free. Then, every night in the kitchen, Cathie leads a team of about 20 people from different ministry groups, who are cooking a homemade dinner for 220+ guests each and every day. These people make every single meal with the love of Jesus and pass it on to our guests, who have told me “This is like eating at a 5 Star Restaurant” each night! And before they leave in the morning, Cathie and a group of about 5 other volunteers arrive at 4:00 a.m. to make sure that they get a good breakfast (although their favorite is definitely Frosted Flakes!!) and a lunch bag that was lovingly prepared by you and the girls scouts and boy scouts, our staff here at HNM, and many ministry groups, who all got together and made nutritious lunches for our guests and even put little notes in the lunches that say things like, “God Bless You” or “You Are Loved” and little things like that to, again, make them feel like they matter. She also makes sure that all our volunteers are fed … oh yeah, every night there is a different soup and bread and dessert and she makes sure that you have eaten too. Oh, and I can’t forget our “Evening Entertainment.” Each night we have a different musical group, playing music and keeping the atmosphere upbeat with the fabulous tunes. Entertainment? Yes, for our guests. And they love it … clapping after each song ends and swaying to their favorite songs.  Lastly, Claude and her new friend Nancy, have been overseeing 55 volunteers each and every night, making sure that the serving of the dinners and the cleaning of the kitchen will go smoothly with all the volunteers. They take the time to call each volunteer and to get to know them so that our volunteers also feel like they matter and that what they are doing is REALLY IMPORTANT!! Because it is. They also have a team of “washers” who pick up our dirty aprons every night, take them home, wash them, fold them, and bring them back ready to use the next night! When we say, “It takes a village,” we really mean that … the “Village” of Holy Name of Mary Parish! You are all awesome and amazing and we are so blessed that you share your love in this way! WOW AGAIN!!

When I walk around the Hall, I have never seen so many smiling faces … on the faces of our guests, who really feel like guests, when the volunteers are there talking to them, treating them with care, taking food to their puppies, and offering them a prayer or a hug or a pat on their shoulder, and on the faces of our volunteers, whose hearts are touched way beyond what they expected and who ask to come back again and again. It doesn’t take that much on our part, but it is just so meaningful to our guests.

Eddie and I have been working the dinner service with David & Brenda and it’s been really fabulous. To watch them (D&B) make sure that the serving goes smoothly and orderly is a gift in itself. It’s hard to explain the process if you haven’t been there to see it, however, let me just say if you look at it as an outsider, it looks like total madness. There are lots of people walking around helping our dinner guests and the tables are situated really close together, with all of their belongings, (for example, their luggage and backpacks, to their beloved puppies), also situated around and under the tables. It’s loud from the talking and the music, so most of our “work” is done with hand and eye signals and believe it or not, it works! Brenda works the volunteer line at the kitchen window, inviting 2 volunteers at a time, to grab a tray of food and walk to either David or Eddie, who is waving a flag in the air to show the volunteers which tables to serve. Yes, there is a method to the madness and it works! It’s fast and fun and feels amazing to be a part of it. I got to work as a “Flagger” last night since Eddie is out of town this week and boy did I have fun! Matt and Suzanne were there providing the music and it was the best soundtrack (in my humble opinion) we’ve had thus far! I even got one of my tables to sing the background on “Proud Mary” and they had a blast! Although, they kept asking me, “Hey where is Ed tonight?” I told them would have to put up with me for the night and they would just laugh and say, “ok, we will!”

I have a lot more to say about this, about our society and how we treat the homeless, many of whom we have met are “working poor” … meaning that they were of that group who was just “one paycheck away” from being homeless and because of something that happened in their lives, now they are. Some of them just can’t get a job for whatever reason and all they want is a break and a job so that they don’t have to sleep at shelters in the winter or on the streets in the summer. Some of their “homes” are their cars and they drive to the shelter to “sleep in a warm place and on a bed” while they can. Some of them are mentally ill and are out on the streets because there’s no place for them to be taken care of, and some of them … well, they choose to be out there for whatever reason that only they know. Their stories are just as varied as yours and mine. It’s heartbreaking to see it and to know that in this country, where we are so rich in resources and money, that we won’t take care of our homeless society in a meaningful, caring, merciful way.

In my role as “Volunteer Coordinator” I thank you from the bottom of my heart for getting involved. We couldn’t do it without you. In my role as a volunteer, thanks for working with me.  You warm my heart as I watch you give of yours.  In my role as a plain old person watching all this unfold, thank you all for the love and consideration, not to mention the hours and hours, that you put into this endeavor. It is truly a gift to be a part of. I am honored and humbled to “work” the Winter Shelter. I’m also so proud of us as a parish .. really, really proud.

Anyway, I thought I’d share this with you … and maybe I can take pictures of some of our volunteers to post for you. We are not allowed to take pictures of our guests so I can’t show you what goes on each night in the “merciful madness,” but I’d ask you to picture a homeless person that you’ve seen lately and pray for them and all our homeless, that God would protect them and keep them safe, until they can be cared for and treated in a manner that is worthy of their name … a Beloved Son or Daughter of God.

Talk to you tomorrow!