by Lisa Tome
The wind chill outside hovered around the zero mark, but Herb Hamilton was warm and toasty.
Hamilton, who is homeless, was unpacking his gear, and shedding his boots on his cot at Janes United Methodist Church.
"They are treating us excellent. I thank God for God. He loves me and I know it. I could be out in this (weather). The food is great here. I got full on pancakes and sausage. The volunteers here treat us 120 percent. If they don't know something, they go out of their way to get an answer," said Hamilton.
Hamilton has been homeless for two years. Last week, he was part of the rotating shelter, which moves around the county to various churches for a week at a time. The shelters operate from November through March.
"I was born and bred in Cecil County. I hit rock bottom and made a wrong turn. It's not comfortable being homeless but they make you comfortable here," said Hamilton.
The comfort that Hamilton was feeling was courtesy of Janes Church, Helen Billiet, and a dedicated group of volunteers of all ages.
Billiet has been coordinating the shelter at Janes for eight years. She makes check lists, plans meals, and signs up volunteers who will help during the week that the church hosts the shelter guests. Everything - from linens and laundry, to overnight hosts, to trash pick-up - is overseen by Billiet. On Wednesday evening, February 19, volunteers were preparing grilled cheese sandwiches and a choice of soups. Each night, the menu included something special. There was pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, picnic food night, a roast beef dinner, pizza night, a turkey dinner, and more.
"We have plenty of volunteers. We have the greatest little helpers. Every night, there are tons of kids. This is a life-changing experience," said Billiet. Over the course of the week, more than 100 people had signed up to help with various shelter tasks. "It doesn't take that many. I like to see the fellowship of the teams that work together," said Billiet. "We are fortunate to have this facility to bless people. And I am blessed to be part of it."
Madisyn Walston, age 10, was volunteering in the shelter kitchen for the second year. "I like how we help people who need help and seeing all these people help them," said Walston.
A homeless man, age 54, who asked that his name not be used, talked about being homeless and enjoying the shelter.
"I've been trying to get my section 8 (housing) back for years. They are treating me really good here. The people are respectful and kind," he said.