by Lisa Tome
Phil Howard searched a black backpack for contraband on Tuesday night, February 16.
After he finished rifling through the belongings of a stranger, Howard said "Welcome to our church."
Howard, one of the volunteers at the church-based Emergency Rotating Shelter, held last week at Janes United Methodist Church in Rising Sun, was enthusiastic. "I'm here doing intake and registering people. I check their bags and I welcome them. That's an easy job - to welcome someone to the church," said Howard.
From the week of Thanksgiving through the end of March, more than 35 churches provide housing to the homeless. The churches provide space, staffing, food, and more to those who have no housing during cold weather. Recently, North East United Methodist and St. Mary Anne's Episcopal churches teamed up to host the group. This week, the homeless will be sheltered in Chesapeake City.
"They are just so grateful. They truly do appreciate it. Homelessness has a stigma. Until you realize it could be you or I. Some of them are working and still coming here," said volunteer Dale Kerns.
Of the 29 people who were sheltered, the age range was 18-69. Kerns said that in addition to helping those in need, the rotating shelter provides church members with the chance to spend time together, which is a rarity. "This provides a good connection for church members. No matter who you are, you can help. The older members make donations. The Sunday school made welcome cards. Everyone can feel a part of it," said Kerns.
Curtis, 47, was enjoying his time at Janes. "I didn't like the chicken. But everything else was good. The corn chowder was awesome," said Curtis.
Curtis said he is staying in the rotating shelters because he had "one bad night." "I was working three weeks ago, moving furniture. I had one bad night and I lost my job and my home. It's hard staying clean off drugs and alcohol but I'm trying. I had 83 days clean and then I messed up," he said. "In a few weeks I'll be doing concrete work. God willing, I'll get it together."
And although she's homeless, Dana, 52, felt a huge obligation to someone who was in the some position. "I've been taking care of a lady in the shelter. She's 81 and in the hospital. I've been holding off getting a job because of her," said Dana.
Amy Meeks was running things on behalf of Janes UMC this year. Meeks said she has been helping out with the rotating shelter for years before taking over the supervisory role this year. "It can be hard to get volunteers for the overnights," said Meeks. She also explained that while the church houses everyone, other groups lend a hand. This year, the Rising Sun Lions Club, Kids of the Future 4-H Club, St. Agnes Church, and West Nottingham Academy pitched in at Janes. The church youth group also volunteered one night as did a Bible study group.
One of the highlights of each evening was the meal. Dinners included sloppy Joe, pot roast, baked ziti, turkey and all the trimmings, pizza, and more. Meeks said the volunteers were faithful. On the Monday night the church was hosting, there was an ice storm. "All the volunteers showed up for everything. We have a lot of faithful volunteers," she said.
Darlene Potter is one of those volunteers. "I like serving our guests. I go out with them on cigarette breaks and make them feel welcome. I love doing this. It's my fifth year. I'd love to take them all home with me, but I can't," said Potter. "Isn't this why we're here? To serve one another?"