Thursday, January 26, 2012

Meeting People at the Shelter

Pancake breakfast on shelter's spring closing day
Yesterday morning, I went back to volunteer at the Emergency Winter Shelter for an early morning shift. It was a completely different experience than volunteering after work and, even though it was tough to get up so early, I'm really thankful for the experience. I had hoped to write a blog post after each visit to the shelter, but I'm behind and yesterday's experience was really meaningful so I'm skipping ahead!

When I arrived at 5:45, people were just starting to wake up and it was pretty quiet. Right at 6 a.m., one of the overnight monitors went through the halls with a wake-up call. For someone who had been up all night, he had a lot of energy and was very positive. "Time to get up! Wake up on the right side of the bed and nothing can stop you from having a good day!" "Rise and shine, it's a beautiful day in the high 30s!" "Get up! Get up! Get up!" 

The coffee was already brewing so I starting pouring bowls of cereal and getting the milk, sugar, and cream ready. I think we went through 9 boxes of cereal and 5 half-gallons of milk in about 30 minutes. 

I really liked volunteering for the morning shift. I was the only volunteer at the shelter, which meant that I interacted with every single person who came through. Also, because the monitor who was helping me had to come and go a few times, they had to be more patient with me.

Breakfast is a slower pace than dinner. In the evenings, there's a series of questions and you need to keep the line moving. I usually volunteer on Tuesday nights and a group from St. Charles is also there. (They are very nice and said I can be an honorary part of their group, though I tend to sign in with my name and "just me :)" on the sign-in sheet.) It's fast-paced and we're usually busy from the time we arrive until the time we leave. It goes like this: "Volunteer 1: Would you like the main dish? Volunteer 2: Would you like the side dish? Volunteer 3: Would you like something to drink? We have coffee, tea, and water (and sometimes lemonade and sometimes they want hot water)". We all have a general "script" and don't want to hold up people who are hungry by making too much small talk. 

In the morning, just like in the evening, lots of people said thank you, smiled, and wished me well. However, yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to people like they were my friends and we were just hanging out. For the first time, we talked about our ages, where we're from, how depressing the local news can be, sports teams, and what we like to do. Looking back to my first few shifts at the EWS, I've always been friendly, but I haven't always felt this comfortable and I've never had a conversation that went beyond thank you/you're welcome or questions about which group we're volunteering with. Getting to know these people a little more meant a lot and I look forward to seeing them next time. In truth, I hope that some of them will have permanent homes before I'm back, but I'd rather see them in the shelter than on the streets. 

This morning, I was really excited to see one of the men I met yesterday when I came into work. I walked through the Arlington Employment Center and he was at the reception desk getting paperwork. When I said good morning, he instantly remembered me and it was nice to have that connection. Also, I'm so proud of him for coming over here to get help. Seeing him again made me realize that I still don't know anyone's name so I'll try to work on that next time.

One more thing I noticed yesterday is that the 4 bottles of ketchup I donated back in November were all gone. Thankfully I have 4 more bottles ready to take over there because some things just really need ketchup! :)

If you want to give back, but don't have the time to get over to the shelter, I encourage you to make a donation. Here are some things they seem to go through really quickly at meal time:

Hot sauce
Tea bags

They also appreciate new twin size sheets and blankets, toiletries, and financial donations (surprise!). 

I go back to the shelter for an evening shift on Valentine's Day and I'm really looking forward to it! 

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