A foot of snow in February, closing schools and several businesses, did not stop volunteers for United Way’s Cold Weather Shelter. For them, it was critical the shelter be open, even though it meant they may be unable to get home.
“I can’t believe how amazing you guys are,” Winni Brumsickle told her volunteers at a debriefing lunch on Thursday, March 21, at Downriggers. “I don’t feel like I even did anything.”
After a short welcome, Brumsickle had each volunteer share a few of their thoughts regarding the shelter’s operation. This was the second year volunteering at the refuge for a majority of those who attended. They all agreed the second year was much smoother overall with a better location, the Island Community Church.
The last winter, according to Brumsickle, only one person utilized the shelter on average. Others, she said, expressed to her that they didn’t know where to go or who to call.
“I really appreciate you, Winnie, and all the work you did,” volunteer Allan Smith, who is also the liaison between Red Cross and the shelter, said.
This year, the shelter assisted approximately 14 people.
“Getting involved with these folks did my heart good,” volunteer Gayle Rollins said, adding that he realized the importance of communication to homeless people.
Smith also mentioned that simply having someone to talk to is often taken for granted. Homelessness, he noted, can be isolating.
“You look around and don’t see any homeless people. That is because they are very good at being invisible,” Smith said. He continued, telling the story of one client that told him he just needed someone to talk to. The Smith and the client stayed up talking well into the night.
Another client expressed gratitude for the warmth and shelter, telling volunteer Jenniffer Armstrong, “I feel human again.”
Volunteer Angela Light noted that she had discovered a jacket online that could double as a sleeping bag. It was not cheap. However, the company sent two to Light for free after she explained the jackets were for people who were going through a hard time financially.
“I love working with the cold weather shelter,” Light said. “Homelessness is something I have been concerned about since I was a child.” She told a story about how as a teenager she would buy food and give it to people living on the street.
As each volunteer spoke, telling stories of interactions with their clients, it was evident on each person’s face how the experiences affected them.
“The level of compassion everyone [at the shelter] seemed to have was amazing,” Rollins said. “There was no judgment, people accepted the clients as they were.”
For more information, visit unitedwaysjc.com.